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New wave of realignment puts Big East in flux again

After a few months of relative stability, thinking that the ACC's $50-million exit fee would curb additional conference realignment, college athletics' dominos are falling once more, and again, the moves are coming at the Big East's expense.

Maryland is announcing today that it is leaving the ACC to join the Big Ten, and reports have Rutgers following with an announcement Tuesday that the Scarlet Knights are leaving the Big East to leap to the Big Ten. That isn't likely the end of it, as the ACC's likely source for a replacement 14th school will be the Big East, most likely Connecticut or Louisville.'s Jeremy Fowler reported Monday that USF is one of four Big East schools -- with UConn, Louisville and Cincinnati -- that the ACC will be talking to, but the Bulls are generally seen as a long shot within the group because the ACC already has a strong Florida presence in Florida State and Miami.

This turmoil comes as the Big East was close to the longterm stability that would come with a new TV rights deal -- the conference just last week announced its divisions for football in 2013, when it was to expand to 12 football teams. The Big East requires a window of 27 months' notice to leave the school, but there's ample precedent in the last year for schools buying their way into a quicker exit, as West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh have already done.

The Big East would likely require its existing members to remain for the 2013-14 season, as anything less than 12 football schools would keep the league from debuting its conference championship game next season; replacement schools could be found to join the league in 2014. In the last year, the Big East has lost West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12, and Pitt and Syracuse are in their final season, joining the ACC next summer; Notre Dame will soon be taking all of its non-football teams to the ACC as well.

The realignment carousel isn't likely done with the ACC getting back to 14 -- the Big 12 would then have four fewer teams than the SEC, Big Ten and ACC and may seek additional teams as a result. It's unknown what impact the new changes would have on the balance of power for automatic bowl contracts in the new top-six bowl structure that will begin with the 2014 season.

The most plausible scenario that would have USF involved in upgrading conferences would be if the Big 12 grabs FSU from the ACC, which would then have less of a Florida presence and could look to USF in response.