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Big East pushing on with expansion plan

- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2011

NEW YORK — The Big East wants to expand to 12 football teams "the sooner the better."

The problem is the Big East can't be sure if its current members are staying put until Missouri, the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference figure out what their next steps will be in the ongoing drama of conference realignment.

"The overall landscape is still so very unsettled," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.

"We're not going to pause until the Missouri situation is settled because it might not be settled for a while."

The Big East's presidents unanimously voted Monday night to increase the league's withdrawal fee from $5 million to $10 million when an expansion plan is executed, Marinatto said.

Marinatto declined to talk about specific schools the Big East wants to add, but did say the Big East has "identified specific teams, and if any one of those teams commits [to joining the league], the exit fee increases."

A person with knowledge of the Big East's plan told the Associated Press that the addition of Navy or Air Force would trigger the increase in the exit fee. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about which schools the league is targeting.

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told the AP on Tuesday the Big East and the academy have been in contact, but he was unaware of the league's most recent move.

"Certainly a reconfigured Big East with stable core members is something the Naval Academy needs to consider," he said.

Air Force spokesman Troy Garnhart said in an email school officials would not comment.

Gladchuk said the two academies communicate, but will make decisions independently.

"I'm not convinced that it needs to be a package deal," Gladchuk said.

Officials in the Big East have previously told the AP the conference's plan to get to 12 members includes Navy, Air Force and Boise State as football-only members and Central Florida, Houston and SMU for all sports.

Marinatto said no invitations have gone out, and he could not give a timetable for when the Big East hopes to complete its expansion work.

"Stay tuned, we're working diligently," he said. "We're not going to rush ourselves. The sooner the better."

The Big East has six football members committed to the conference beyond this season, and eight schools that do not compete in the league in football, including Notre Dame. Pittsburgh and Syracuse have accepted invitations to join the Atlantic Coast Conference and TCU, previously scheduled to join the Big East in 2012, instead will join the Big 12.

And the Big East is in danger of losing more members. Officials from Boise State, Air Force and Navy have all expressed concerns about that.

"When you go from nine schools to six ... we need to do our due diligence to ask how stable are the remaining six," Gladchuk said.

Marinatto said the current Big East members are operating in "good faith" with one another.

"The exit fee it a sign of stability, but it's not the only thing we're looking at," he said. "Everyone, given the environment that we're all in is looking for one thing: stability."

Including Missouri, which is considering leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, a move that would leave the Big 12 in need of at least one more member. The Missouri board of curators will meet Thursday and Friday in Kansas City, though it has not announced whether a decision about a conference will be made then. Big East members West Virginia and Louisville are potential Big 12 replacements for Missouri.

An even worse scenario for the Big East has the Big 12 taking Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati from the Big East to get back to 12 members if Missouri leaves. Marinatto said Big East officials have not discussed the possibility of being whittled down to a point where it would have to give up football. The league has made protecting its status as an automatic qualifier in the Bowl Championship Series a priority.

"We're designing a plan that would include schools that would help us to do that," Marinatto said.

Adding Boise State, one of the most successful football programs in the country over the last decade, is the linchpin to that plan. Losing AQ status would cost the Big East millions of dollars in revenue and limit its members opportunities to compete for a national championship.

The current BCS contracts lock in the Big East's BCS bid for this season and the next two, Marinatto said. There are no guarantees beyond that for any league, he said.

He also reiterated the Big East intends to hold Pitt and Syracuse to the league's 27-month notification rule and keep those schools in the league for the next two years. He said the conference has looked at 14-team models for next season.

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