- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Big East’s transformation continued Tuesday when Navy accepted an invitation to join the conference as a football member starting in July 2015.

Navy’s long-rumored move from independent is the Big East’s sixth addition since December. Previously, Boise State and San Diego State joined as football-only members, along with Houston, SMU and UCF in all sports, all beginning in 2013.

Ultimately, Navy, independent since 1879, sought stability for its football program amid the turbulent waters of conference realignment.

“It allows us to move forward in a position of relevance,” Navy athletics director Chet Gladhcuk said in a conference call. “This is the best-case scenario.”

Navy’s deal with the Big East maintains the school’s rivalries with Air Force, Army and Notre Dame. The Army matchup remains Navy’s last regular-season game on the second Saturday in December.

Also, Navy’s games will stay on Saturdays, in an era where weekday games are commonplace.

Navy’s entrance triggered a doubling of the conference’s exit fee from $5 million to $10 million. That gave Navy confidence in the Big East’s long-term viability.

“As the landscape of college football has changed, it’s kept me up many a night thinking about what’s going to happen to us,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I’m thinking of the haves and have-nots, thinking that gap would get wider and wider.”

Navy officials believed continuing as an independent hampered scheduling, television appearances and bowl game opportunities. Conference realignment, they said, widened the gap between schools with and without a conference home.

Gladchuk said Navy moved independently of Army or Air Force. Air Force, a member of the Mountain West Conference, has been mentioned as a candidate for the Big East.

“I imagine they’ll be taking a look at that in the future,” Gladchuk said of Air Force.

Navy’s addition bumps the conference to 11 football schools, one short of the 12 needed for a conference championship game.

“We’re not done yet,” Big East commissioner John Marinatto said of the conference’s expansion plans.

Marinatto wants to expand the football members to “at least” 12 and to do so there are “a lot of scenarios on the table.”

Questions remain, such as West Virginia’s lawsuit to leave the Big East for the Big 12 in 2012 instead of holding to the conference’s 27-month waiting period. Marinatto declined comment on the legal action or the 2012 football schedule.

But the focus Tuesday was Navy.

“This discussion,” Niumatalolo said, “has been years in the making.”

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