Big East expansion: Which schools fit best?
I've been busy, but I've done a poor job in last few days of addressing the prospect of Big East football expansion, which is something everyone has talked about since the league's presidents met in Philadelphia on Tuesday and approved a process for evaluating potential new additions to the league.
So as the league looks at its options for expanding from eight football members to 10, the question remains which schools are the best match for the Big East as it moves forward. Much of the speculation has focused on TCU and Villanova, which sit at opposite ends of the league's spectrum of criteria.
TCU would significantly upgrade the league's football reputation, bringing a top-five team that would benefit from the conference's automatic BCS bid. The Horned Frogs are well outside the Big East's geographic footprint, but would give the conference an entrance -- both for viewership and recruiting -- into the huge Texas market. Unless TCU came in as a football-only member -- and I've heard that possibility this week -- their addition would complicate Big East basketball, which would expand beyond its 16-team lineup into uncharted territory.
Villanova, meanwhile, is on the opposite end -- the Wildcats are already Big East members, so adding them wouldn't complicate the basketball lineup. But Villanova plays I-AA football -- they won a national championship in 2009 -- so moving up not only to I-A but to a BCS league represents a significant jump. The Wildcats would have to fund 22 more scholarships in football (and likely as many on the women's side for gender equity) and would need to move to a larger stadium to allow for bigger crowds and revenue to offset those expenses. Even given a three- or four-year lag before they join the Big East, so they can sell recruits on their future, it wouldn't be an easy transition.
Beyond those two -- and any continued courtship of independent Notre Dame -- the remaining speculation is generally on giving the Big East their pick of Conference USA's best programs, with Central Florida getting a lot of buzz, along with Houston (if paired with TCU as a new Texas presence). There's less talk of East Carolina or Memphis this time around, but their success (in football and basketball, respectively) would seem to merit consideration as well.
We'll ask you -- if you were in commissioner John Marinatto's chair this fall, given a chance to give the league a new football identity by adding two teams, who would you choose and why?