TAMPA — And then there were five.
The Big East's dwindling football membership took another hit Tuesday with news that West Virginia is expected to join the Big 12, perhaps announcing the move today.
The Mountaineers are the fourth football program in six weeks to announce they're leaving the Big East. Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced moves to the ACC while TCU, expected to join the Big East next year, instead opted for the Big 12. The league might enforce a clause requiring 27 months' notice for the three current schools.
West Virginia has been the best program in the Big East in USF's seven years in the league, with a 60-17 overall record entering this season and at least a 5-2 conference record in every season.
Tuesday's news is a major blow to the Big East's future as an automatic-qualifying BCS league, unless the conference can pull off some major coups in filling out a proposed 12-team reincarnation. The question now is which of the teams the Big East has been courting are still interested in joining the conference without its best asset.
CBS Sports reported that Big East commissioner John Marinatto met this weekend with officials from Boise State, Navy, Houston, SMU and Central Florida; Air Force has also been discussed as an expansion candidate. The site also reported that the western schools are lobbying for the Big East to pursue BYU to replace West Virginia as a 12th member of the league.
One interesting silver lining, if a long shot: The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy on Monday reported that "there is some quiet buzz … that the Big 12 might be interested in invading the South to select USF" if it expanded to 12 teams. Louisville has been mentioned most as a Big 12 target, with Cincinnati and BYU as the schools also floated as possible additions.
The Big 12 is acting quickly to maintain a 10-member lineup, on the assumption that Missouri leaves for the SEC.
There is no timetable for Missouri to complete its expected departure from the Big 12 — and the league's board of directors expressed "a strong desire" for Missouri to stay.
During an interview Tuesday with KFRU-AM in Columbia, Mo., Missouri Chancellor Brady Deaton said it would be "days" or "a week or two" before the school announced its decision.
Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas has said he expects Missouri to compete in the Big 12 in 2012, though Deaton has said that if Missouri does move, he'd like the Tigers to be in their new conference next fall.
Missouri would be the SEC's 14th member and join Texas A&M, which made its move from the Big 12 official this month.
The Big 12 is down to 10 members this season after Nebraska left for the Big Ten, which now has 12 members, and Colorado bolted for the now Pac-12.
A report reviewed by Missouri officials and obtained by AP this month stated a move to the SEC from the Big 12 could net as much as an extra $12 million in revenue a year.
West Virginia also likely would make more money with its move. The Big 12 distributed $139 million to its members in 2010 and in April signed a 13-year TV deal with Fox worth $1.17 billion that kicks in next year. The conference also recently agreed to start sharing TV revenue equally. The Big East distributed $113 million to its 16 all-sports members last year and has yet to ink a new TV deal. Separate deals for football and basketball expire in 2013.
West Virginia will be by far the easternmost school in the Big 12, 870 miles from the closest league school, Iowa State.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.