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Big East defections leave USF Bulls in limbo

As the Big East exodus continues with the league's seven basketball-centric Catholic schools planning to exit and form their own league, USF is left in limbo as far as its future. Here's a look at where things stand:

What are the chances the Catholic schools will stay?

Poor. Big East commissioner Mike Aresco reportedly told athletic directors of the current and future football programs Thursday night that he expects the seven schools to leave.

Will that leave the Big East with enough schools to compete? reported Friday that the league is set on having its football season with 12 teams next fall. On Tuesday, the league announced home and road opponents for all schools. What the league looks like beyond that is in question.

What are the chances USF could join another major conference, such as the ACC or Big 12?

ACC and Big 12 members earn about $17 million to $20 million in payouts from the league, so a new member has to generate enough new revenue to justify a piece of that pie. Those leagues have little incentive to add a member who would cause other schools to earn less.

USF's strongest asset is the Tampa Bay television market, which ranks 14th in the country. But the passion for football isn't quite as high. Tampa Bay tied Louisville for 20th in ratings for ESPN games at 2.1.

Because USF is a relatively young school that started playing football in 1997, it doesn't have the generations of fan support more established programs have.

What other options might USF have?

The Sporting News reported Friday that Cincinnati and Connecticut, both of whom have lobbied for invitations to the ACC, are investigating the possibility of forming a new league that would include remnants of the Big East and the Mountain West, including USF and possibly UCF.

Could the Big East have prevented this?

The league was founded with a basketball focus and as football has become the dominant force, the nonfootball members' resentment built. But as long as the financial rewards were better, the seven Catholic schools had incentive to stay.

The league made a major mistake when it rejected a $1.17 billion television rights offer from ESPN last year. Some schools, including ones that later defected, lobbied for the Big East to hold out for a bigger offer as Fox and NBC Sports Network sought to beef up their programming. Instead, defections have dramatically reduced the Big East's bargaining position, opening the door for the Catholic schools to believe they can make more in their own league.

Will the Big East maintain its position among the BCS automatic qualifiers?

Next season is the last one for the current BCS system before a four-team playoff system is implemented. Bill Hancock, the BCS executive director, told in an email it's "premature and inappropriate" to determine whether the league will retain its automatic qualifier status in 2013 in the wake of wholesale changes to the league. Starting in 2014, only the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 will have automatic qualifier status for the major bowls. In addition, the highest-ranked team among the other conferences — Big East, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt — will earn a berth in a major bowl.

Big East defections leave USF Bulls in limbo 12/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 9:50pm]
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