TAMPA — It is, quite literally, a new direction for the Big East.
"We have taken another bold and creative step in our history," commissioner John Marinatto said Wednesday in announcing a long-awaited expansion. "We are going west."
Is it ever.
Boise State and San Diego State will join for football only, and Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist for all sports starting in fall 2013.
The Big East began as a close-knit union of Northeastern basketball schools in 1979, expanded south to Miami to begin football in 1991 and expanded south and west to USF, Louisville and Cincinnati in 2005. Now it has a national footprint as the first league to span four time zones.
Boise State and San Diego State will leave the Mountain West, and UCF, Houston and SMU will leave Conference USA. (The Associated Press reported Boise State's and San Diego State's other teams will be in the WAC and Big West, respectively.)
They hope to increase TV revenue and gain easier access to the Bowl Championship Series and its huge payouts. For the second straight season, Boise State went 11-1 and ranked among the Top 10 but was left out of the BCS. "That clearly was one of the reasons that drove us toward this decision," Boise State president Robert Kustra said.
The additions offset the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12, which left five football-playing schools in the Big East. Now at 10 (16 for basketball), the league hopes to reach 12, which would create an East and West division and title game.
The 12 could include Navy, which has been in talks with the league. But one target, Air Force, said Wednesday that it will not join. It cited loyalty to the Mountain West and maintaining rivalries.
The Big East is holding firm to bylaws that call for Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia to stay through 2013 even if it means there are 15 teams in 2013. It also could be posturing toward talks about earlier exits once a 12-team lineup is in place.
Marinatto wouldn't discuss potential members.
For USF, the additions bring conference stability with some familiar faces. Its first game against a I-A team was a loss at San Diego State in 1999. And it beat Houston in 2001 and 2002 while in C-USA.
And of course, there's UCF, whom USF beat from 2005-08.
"I think the geography itself and the conference affiliation will create more of a rivalry," USF athletic director Doug Woolard said.
USF president Judy Genshaft, chair of the conference's executive committee, joined Marinatto in announcing the expansion.
"The Big East is a remarkable athletic conference, unique in its way from the other BCS conferences," she said. "The addition … only adds to that singularity. This is a diverse and distinguished group of universities."
The national reach could help the Big East as it opens negotiations next year for a new TV contract, which likely will be in excess of $100 million a year.
"Four different time zones will allow us the potential to schedule four football games on a given Saturday back to back to back to back without any overlap," Marinatto said. "It's a powerful model and one that we believe will be unmatched by any other conference."
Meanwhile, C-USA and the Mountain West are looking at an all-sports merger instead of football-only, CBSSports.com reported. They previously announced their champs would meet with a BCS berth on the line (which needed approval from the BCS).
Information from Times wires contributed to this report.