In light of the "seismic" changes college football conferences seem to be gearing up for, one conference deserves a closer look. The smallest BCS conference, the Big East, has eight football members and only seven in-conference games.
Why then have we not heard a peep our of Big East headquarters on the topic on adding new members? Rival conferences are nearing 12 members and a championship game. Whats more alarming is that if the Big Ten completes their expansion aspirations by staging another raid on the Big East, its curtains for the tiny conference.
Where then will Big East commissioner John Marinatto look to bring his conference to the size of fellow BCS conferences, if not just keeping its head above water? At present, the Big East is four teams away from a championship game, five away if the Big Ten snatches Rutgers and makes their conference family 11 + 1.
The candidates on the table may not go far back in the annals of college football history. Many of the schools they represent were founded after Joe Paterno started coaching but perhaps that might not make them that young either. In order of acceptability, I present the schools the Big East should consider for expansion...and survival!
Since 2005, the Knights have played in C-USA and won the conference outright in 2007. In that time they have also qualified for three bowl games. Although they are still looking for their first post season win, UCF has been rapidly climbing the ranks of college football for 30 years since their start in Division III.
The school has the largest undergraduate enrollment in the country and plays in the new 45,301 seat Bright House Networks Stadium. With much respect and success as of late, they would be a fine addition and geographic rival for the remote South Florida Bulls.
East Carolina Pirates
Just like UCF and the rest of C-USA, the Pirates have risen quickly in the last few season. ECU exploded on to the scene in 2008 stunning No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 8 West Virginia to open their season and get ranked as high as No. 14.
ECU has finished first in their conference the last two seasons, played in a bowl game the last four season including a 41-38 win over Boise State in the 2007 Hawaii Bowl, and amassed a .607 record over the last five years. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium seats 50,000 and television ratings show great support.
You can't say enough of what head coach Ken Niumatalolo has done in just two season at the helm. Navy has had three straight bowl appearances including a recent victory over Missouri in the Texas Bowl. As a sign of change, the Midshipmen snapped a 43-year losing streak with their rivals Notre Dame by beating the Irish in South Bend 46-44 in triple overtime.
For good measure, Navy again beat the Fighting Irish in 2009 and took Ohio State to the brink in Columbus. More than the other candidates, adding Navy would do wonders for the Big East's image of old-time college football tradition.
Army Black Knights
If Navy were to get on board, a package deal with the service academies would be logical. For the Big East, the tremendously popular Army-Navy Game would be an annual spotlight for the conference to showcase as successfully as the Big Ten's Michigan-Ohio State game and the Big XII's Texas-Oklahoma "Red River Rivalry."
That game alone would justify the addition in the form of television dollars and high profile national exposure. Another hallmark college football team, their stadium seats 40,000 and has a great following with a patriotic flare.
A resurgence in the program has sparked a 2-3 bowl record since 2003. What bodes even more favor for Memphis is the longstanding rivalries they have with current Big East members Louisville and Cincinnati.
The school has also been in the national spotlight with their men's basketball team advancing to the NCAA championship round which they fell in overtime. Their stadium, the Liberty Bowl, holds 62,380 and their overall athletic department resume makes them a prime candidate.
Marshall Thundering Herd
One of the original schools to be labeled "BCS Buster," the Thundering Herd has been the surprise competitor long before the country went crazy for Boise State. Marshall has gone 4-1 in bowl games in the last decade with wins over opponents like Cincinnati, Louisville, ECU, and Ohio.
They have produced a number of NFL players and have gained national attention with Matthew McConaughey's inspiring movie We Are Marshall . Their stadium seats 38,016 and would make a fine geographic rival with WVU.
The name alone doesn't seem to make them worthy coupled with the fact that the Big East gave them the boot in 2004 due to program shortcomings, ouch. However, the program has had time to improve with their basketball team dominating the A-10 and their football team recently making a trip to the EagleBank Bowl to face UCLA.
If the two sides had to kiss and make up, the transition would not even effect the 13-member MAC football championship game configuration.
However you see the ranking of the candidates, five will most likely have to be chosen to make up for the possible defection of Rutgers to the Big Ten. You may be asking yourself what this would mean for a possible 21-member Big East basketball structure. Asking smaller teams to leave might happen, if not, expect most new members to compete in football only.
Much talk has had to do with the Mountain West but geography will play a major factor in this expansion scenario. Don't bet on the fact that any former Big East member will come crawling back from the ACC either. As unsuccessful as the ACC football championship game has been, other BCS-level teams won't consider jumping ship for the Big East until more stability is shown.
As for Notre Dame, their fate remains to be seen based on how big this reshuffling of the conferences may be (and trust me, it's going to be huge). If Irish AD Swarbrick sees the writing on the wall for conference affiliation, they won't want to be anywhere but the Big Ten, guaranteed.
In the mean time, the Big East is looking over the same list as you are above and many more. The reason for not announcing it may be for a number of reasons, whatever that may be. Just don't expect the brass at Big East headquarters to stick their heads in the sand. A plan is coming.
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