Schools on the Big East's Expansion radar ...and some that should be
This is the fourth of a series of five Bleacher Reports dealing with the near impossible issue of Big East expansion.
This report lists thumbnails of Big East expansion candidates including the well discussed, as well as upgrade candidates who I think should at least be evaluated by an independent firm to see what kind of revenue they could potentially generate (much like the Big Ten did with some of their candidates).
The first report in this series dealt with where the Big East is today after the near implosion of the Big 12 .
The second dealt with problems that must be addressed by an effective expansion plan .
The third fleshed out what I think a Big East expansion plan should be to answer those problems and named a very expansive list of upgrade candidates who should be spoken with about Big East membership, in part to push targeted upgrade candidates to improve their facilities.
In the final report in the series, I will name names, making my case for the teams I think should be targeted by the Big East for inclusion to secure a more stable future.
This report will open with the usual suspects and then move on to the best of the unlikely candidates list.
These are schools who are likely being undervalued by fans and which should be evaluated by an independent firm to better understand the financial value they could bring to the Big East.
Current game day attendance, enrollment, undergraduate academic reputation, and markets will be heavily discussed on this list.
Last year, the Big East averaged 44,804 fans per game. On the worrisome side, that was a distant sixth among the BCS Automatic Qualifier conferences behind the Atlantic Coast Conference's 51,249, but still thankfully quite a big difference from the best of the non-AQ conferences, the Mountain West Conference's average of 33,202.
I track attendance from year to year and have about a decade worth of attendance numbers. From these numbers, I have put together the following general classifications I'll use in this article.
38K-100K+ = "BCS AQ (automatic qualifier) level" I think most would agree with the idea that the top half of the 120 teams at FBS level would be considered be "BCS AQ caliber" in terms of attendance.
In attendance terms, that amounts to a little over 38,000 in game day attendance. I went with 38,000 as the cutoff. Over my decade snapshot, 61 schools fit this criteria.
I only count nine BCS AQ conference member schools whose attendance fell short of this group and five non-BCS AQ schools (Notre Dame, BYU, Hawaii, Fresno State, and Louisville) in this group.
26K-37K = "Strong FBS Non-BCS AQ level". 21 FBS schools hit this level over my decade-long analysis.
I think most of the non-BCS schools in this group could do a lot better at the BCS level as they would be playing big draws, but for reasons like academic reputation are not prized BCS AQ candidates.
Similarly, there is a compelling argument that the eight BCS AQ schools in this group in an ideal world would not be taking up football slots in BCS AQ conferences, but basketball excellence, long-term associations, and academic reputations have them enjoying a favored status.
17k-25k = "Solid FBS; Elite FCS level". 21 FBS and six FCS schools. It should be recognized that drawing 25K at the FCS level is far more of an accomplishment than drawing 25K at the FBS level.
It might be accurate to say that Montana, which draws as much at the FCS level as Northern Illinois does at the FBS level, could draw thousands more per game (stadium allowing) at the FBS level in a regionally appropriate conference.
7K-16K = "Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level" 17 FBS schools consisting of six Sun Belt schools, six MAC schools, four WAC schools, and Rice (CUSA) are joined by 53 FCS schools in this group.
All of the FBS schools have some local issues that suppress attendance, but one can make the argument all are doing at least something wrong to exacerbate their issues.
Almost every one of the FCS schools in this group could be just as viable at the FBS level as any of these FBS schools and many of the schools in the next two tiers.
(It is important to remember that comparing an FCS school to an FBS school is comparing apples to oranges. As a school moves up in level of competition, media attention increases and public perception improves, leading more football fans to become available to a university. This is much more pronounced in major cities. The questions concerning upgrades are always "Does the university have realistic goals?" and "Do they have an appropriate plan to meet those goals?" UCONN was a great example of successfully answering both questions and upgrading sensibly based on the resources available.)
I also ask the question, "Are they in the Big East footprint?" I take being in the footprint to be that the schools are in the states & DMAs that encompass the basketball Big East, with the exception of Florida.
The vast majority of BCS AQ schools are ranked in the US News Tier One category for doctorate granting schools. Most schools that draw well enough to be considered for BCS AQ membership but are not ranked in the US News Tier 1 have not been able to get into a BCS AQ conference.
There is no evidence that BCS member schools put value in the US News rankings, but the correlation suggests value is assigned by the BCS power schools to much of the attributes that make up that US News criteria.
With that said, I will note if the candidates are "BCS AQ caliber" academically, unfairly or not. meaning they are in that Tier One category.
So, what schools should be seriously and deeply considered to add to the Big East mix?
Usual Suspect: Texas Christian University Horned Frogs
Location: Ft. Worth, TX
2009 Average Home attendance: 38,187 (BCS AQ level last year, generally slightly below in the Strong FBS Non-BCS AQ level)
Stadium Size: 44,358
Media Argument: Dallas/Fort Worth DMA (The fifth most populous of the 210 Designated Market Areas -DMAs- in the US)
In Footprint or Out: Out
Why them? They have BCS bowl credibility having played at a high BCS AQ level for almost a decade and are in a top market even if they are not hugely relevant with DFW fans outside of the Ft. Worth city limits (unless they are either playing UT or OU or in a BCS bowl - in which case they become relevant across the Metroplex for a week).
They are likely the only single school the football Big East could add as a replacement full member for Rutgers (and the huge loss of the NYC DMA) and not immediately lose face as a BCS conference.
TCU's Boosters spend the money to compete. The school has one of the largest athletic budgets for a non-BCS AQ school.
They are a somewhat highly ranked academic school with a large endowment.
Their history in the MWC suggests what fan support they do have is very strong locally and will show up regardless of who they play, so there would likely not be a collapse in attendance playing in the Big East with no historic rivals.
Playing at the BCS AQ level would likely deliver an attendance bump in the Metroplex as it would be perceived as much more impressive.
A big chunk of BCS criteria is performance based, and TCU instead of Rutgers would actually improve the Big East in that regard.
TCU is in the US News Tier One, so they fit academically. Plus DFW is a great recruiting hotbed for football and basketball.
Why not? TCU is not exactly local. It has been a long time since Billy Tubbs coached their basketball team. Plus how much media value do the Frogs add?
In general, travel costs are not an issue at the BCS AQ level, but remember half of the Big East is playing with I-AAA budgets. Travel to Texas could be a big issue to those members.
TCU boosters would be smart to go buy a top name to coach their basketball program as their basketball attendance has cratered since Tubbs left.
As it is today, there is a real question as to whether TCU would be offered more than a football only membership. Being better at basketball could maybe get them in as a full member.
Would TCU take a football only membership and maybe angle for CUSA or even a MVC non-football sports membership? I think they might.
Being in a BCS conference for football is hugely important in Texas; everything else can follow.
I think TCU would add about as much media value to the Big East as they do to the MWC, but sadly, that is less than you'd think.
TCU is a medium-sized private school. Even with a boost from their church affiliation, there is only so much fan base there.
Finally, could there potentially be resistance to adding a non-Catholic Christian school (TCU has an affiliation with the Disciples of Christ) to the Big East? Who can say.
Usual Suspect: East Carolina Pirates
Location: Greenville, N.C.
2009 Average Home attendance: 41,742 (BCS AQ level last year - trending up due to hard work to expand their stadium and improve numbers or a couple year illusion? Used to regularly be near the top of strong FBS Non-BCS AQ level)
Stadium Size: 50,000
Media Argument: Statewide popularity in a large population state? If not, ECU's native DMA the Greenville, N.C. DMA is only 105th out of the nation's 210 DMAs.
In Footprint or Out: Out
Why them? They want to be the football power in basketball crazy North Carolina and could do it in time. That would have some real value.
North Carolina does have a lot of high school talent in football and basketball. They have a large enrollment and a large alumni-base.
Today, they are a reasonable candidate for a BCS conference. ECU has also leaked that they would take a football only slot in the Big East.
Why not? North Carolina-wide fan relevance is a tough sell as ECU is arguably no higher ranked than fourth in popularity in the state. They are not a US News Tier One school academically.
They are outside of the Big East footprint, don't bring much in basketball, and offer a tiny market, which means in media revenue terms they would consume more media revenue than they are likely to generate as a member of the Big East. Those are big hurdles for ECU.
Usual Suspect: Memphis Tigers
Location: Memphis, Tenn.
2009 Average Home attendance: 25,795 (Fell to the top of the Solid FBS; Elite FCS level over the last few years.)
Stadium Size: 62,380
Media Argument: Memphis 47th out of 210 US DMAs.
In Footprint or Out: Out, but not hugely distant for some members.
Why them? It is a harder argument to make than it was 4 years ago. They own a solid DMA.
They are a fairly large school with a mid-sized city available to them. It's a good sports region and a very strong area for basketball.
They are a great basketball draw and have drawn well in football in the past (39,991 in 2005).
There are rumors (denied) of a booster fueled payoff to a BCS conference if the Tigers are admitted to that conference.
They have former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as a consultant. That may be their best card today.
Why not? They are not a US News Tier One school academically.
Additionally, a lot of things appear headed in the wrong direction for Memphis. Their stadium is aging.
Talk of potentially replacing it (which may be pie in the sky) overwhelms talk of improving it, which is probably where they should go in the short term.
(Adding new backed seating would help attendance, and as such perception, a lot.) The football team has not been a selling point in the last few years.
The basketball team achieved great success under John Calipari, but he is gone now and the presence of the NBA Grizzlies is a long-term threat to seriously erode fan attendance at Tiger basketball games as they compete head-to-head for public entertainment dollars.
Usual Suspect: University of Central Florida Golden Knights
Location: Orlando, Fla.
2009 Average Home attendance: 38,078 (BCS AQ level last year and the two prior years. Seems to be permanently in that range behind large enrollment. Averaged 44,018 in 2007)
Stadium Size: 45,301
Media Argument: Orlando DMA (#19 DMA in US)
In Footprint or Out: Out
Why them? There are a lot of good arguments. Florida is a football talent hotbed. This is an enormous university with an enormous alumni base.
UCF has a reasonably strong football program with solid support levels helps. Orlando is a large NFL-type DMA without NFL competition.
As a big-city team, the higher profile the conference, the better they will be able to draw. UCF in a BCS conference could potentially do very well.
Why not? All of those arguments boil down to potential. The Golden Knights really aren't great at anything that generates money. They are not a US News Tier One school academically.
In years past there was some talk that their attendance numbers were a little inflated (although to be fair I haven't heard a thing about that lately).
USF profits from staying a step ahead of UCF; if they were in the same conference, USF might find that they would lose ground to their western clone.
Due to that, UCF might have strong opposition against them getting a Big East invite from USF.
Would UCF take a football-only membership to the Big East? Where would the rest of their sports play?
Usual Suspect: Army Black Knights
Location: West Point, N.Y.
2009 Average Home attendance: 27,997 (Strong FBS Non-BCS AQ level, but usually attendance is a little higher, usually in the low 30's.)
Stadium Size: 40,000
Media Argument: NYC DMA (#1 in the US by a good margin)
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? The academies are some of the better road draws around. It is entirely possible they could generate "visitor" turnouts of +8,000-10,000 for their games in the Big East. That could be very big.
The academies have nationwide fan bases that would help selling the Big East football product to networks. In 2009, the Army and Army Reserve in 2009 reported over 900,000 members. That doesn't include retired members.
That suggests a huge potential nationwide TV fan base. They have been a football-only member of CUSA from 1998-2004, so there is the potential that they would consider accepting the same from the Big East.
Additionally, Army is the only other FBS program in the NYC DMA proper and could offer some strong support specifically in the nation's capital.
Academically. they are not graded on the same category as the doctorate granting schools, but as I understand it, the academies are highly respected and considered academic peers to US News Tier One schools.
Why not? There is a perceived huge problem competitively. Army does not successfully recruit BCS AQ caliber talent in enough depth to compete in a BCS AQ conference.
It is very questionable whether that would change if they were in the Big East. The team with the better and deeper talent wins about 80 percent of the time at the FBS level.
Would Army accept a relegation to being an annual losing team in order to join a BCS AQ conference?
Would there be enough of an upside to make it worth considering? Can the Big East engineer enough upside into the offer to interest Army?
Usual Suspect: Navy Midshipmen
Location: Annapolis, Md.
2009 Average Home attendance: 31,728 (Strong FBS Non-BCS AQ level last year, but apparently hit the BCS AQ level in 2008, drawing 40,802 per game.)
Stadium Size: 34,000
Media Argument: Nationwide following.
In Footprint or Out: IN, Maryland is a flyover state for the Big East.
Why them? Like Army, they are a great road draw that could really help schools like Rutgers and any other eastern expansion candidates.
There are just under 500,000 people in the Navy and the Navy Reserve. That dwarfs a university alumni base. They have a national audience.
With their government ties and their location (30 miles from DC and Baltimore), they could potentially bring valuable TV viewers from the DC DMA as well. They are a peer to a US News Tier One school academically.
Why not? Again like Army there are the same competitive issues that might lead Navy to decline and BCS conferences to look down on them as competitively weak.
Unlike Army, Navy was not a football only member of a conference in the recent past (if ever) and may have no interest in joining.
Usual Suspect: Troy Trojans
Location: Troy, Ala.
2009 Average Home attendance: 18,413 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level)
Stadium Size: 30,000
Media Argument: Montgomery DMA (No. 118 in the US)
In Footprint or Out: OUT
Why them? They are strong enough in football to compete in the Big East and have a nice sized enrollment.
Why not? They really have little else to offer beyond that. They are not a US News Tier One school academically. They are quite a distance from the Big East footprint.
They have a third of their stadium empty each game. They aren't a power in any other sports. They are in a small DMA. Even if you credit them with the Dothan DMA too, it is still a small total of TVs.
Usual Suspect: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Location: Murfreesboro, Tenn.
2009 Average Home attendance: 20,517 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level)
Stadium Size: 31,000
Media Argument: Nashville DMA (#30 DMA in the US)
In Footprint or Out: Out, but somewhat close for most Big East members.
Why them? Start with an NFL-size DMA and a fairly large enrollment and add in decent football and basketball programs.
Why not? While they are in the Nashville DMA, they aren't in Nashville. That would really hurt in any scheme designed to tap that market.
They are not a US News Tier One school academically. Attendance is not at Big East levels, let alone BCS AQ levels.
Upgrade Candidate: Georgetown University Hoyas
Location: Washington, D.C.
2009 Average Home attendance: 2511 (below the Borderline FBS/Strong FCS-level cutoff)
Stadium Size: 2500
Media Argument: D.C. DMA (No. 9)
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? They are one of two FCS members of the Big East. They are very highly ranked academically in the US News Tier One category. There are no football playing FBS schools in the DC DMA. They fill their stadium....
Why not? Their stadium only seats 2500 and they play scholarship-less FCS football. A lot of work would have to occur to get Georgetown to the BCS AQ level and a lot of money would have to be spent.
It would potentially push them away from the other non-football Catholic school members. It is unlikely there is any motivation by the university to make that jump.
Upgrade Candidate: Villanova University Wildcats
Location: Philadelphia, Pa.
2009 Average Home attendance: 7111 (Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level)
Stadium Size: 12,500
Media Argument: Philadelphia DMA
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? They are a good academic school, a member of the non-football Big East, and they are the defending FCS football national champs; so they do play some good football.
They have drawn more in the recent past and have strong fan support for an FCS school. Drawing 7,000-9,000 for the FCS football (a very much discounted level of football) in an NFL city is quite an accomplishment. Villanova could likely draw much, much better at the BCS level.
While they are not ranked in the US News Tier One category, the only reason they are not is because they are not a doctorate granting university and as such, US News doesn't rate them with the other schools on this list.
They are a very highly ranked school from which to earn an undergraduate degree.
Why not? There is always talk by fans of "just moving Villanova up" when realignment is mentioned, but is there any interest in the school in upgrading? That is hard to see.
Any candidate school in the NFL Eagles' backyard is likely to max out drawing in the low 30,000's in the Big East. Would Villanova consider that worth doing?
Would they consider building a new BCS level stadium when it could lead them away from their Catholic school alliance down the road? Additionally, could their local community block such a stadium from being built?
Upgrade Candidate: University of Massachusetts Minutemen
Location: Amherst, Mass.
2009 Average Home attendance: 10,887 (Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level; 28th among FBS programs)
Stadium Size: 17,000
Media Argument: As the state flagship of Massachusetts arguably could bring a statewide fan base including fans in the Boston DMA (#7 in the US).
In Footprint or Out: Out but very close to UConn and many of the other northern members.
Why them? This is the school Massachusetts resident football fans point to when there is discussion of which Massachusetts school could become an FBS program capable of delivering delivering Boston TVs.
UMASS is a strong FCS program on the field and draws well enough at the FCS level to be a serious candidate for upgrading.
They are a respected program in the state and the very fact they are not located in the Boston area could end up helping them as they will not have to compete with the Patriots for local public sports dollars.
They still have alumni across all Massachusetts DMAs and would likely still be TV-relevant in Boston. Their proximity to Syracuse and UConn would likely give them at least one sellout game every year.
UMASS is ranked as a US News Tier One school academically, so they would not hurt the Big East in that regard.
Why not? The argument for the last decade plus has been, "If the Big East offers UMASS a slot, the funding will suddenly appear to build an appropriate stadium."
The state constantly points to financial problems when UMASS's stadium comes up, but the "we will build if there is a Big East offer out there" statement is such a common argument and an ingrained one that it might actually be true at this point.
It might be politically dangerous not to try. Still, what if it isn't? UMASS with a slightly enlarged stadium (say, added end zone bleachers bringing capacity to 22,000 or something), is not Big East caliber.
It could not build and maintain a Big East-sized fan base and would not meet the goal of adding a Boston TV presence.
A stadium replacement, probably not a minor renovation, is required to make UMASS a desirable Big East candidate. Is that possible in today's financial environment?
Upgrade Candidate: SUNY Buffalo Bulls
Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
2009 Average Home attendance: 15,960 (Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level)
Stadium Size: 31,000 currently, but will soon be more like 27,000 when the north end zone stands are demolished.
Media Argument: Buffalo is a decent DMA (#50) with strong football fans.
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? "The State University of New York at Buffalo" (or "The University at Buffalo") is the largest public school deemed a flagship in the State University of New York (SUNY) system.
They have a growing alumni base that due to financial hardships in Buffalo often move into other New York DMAs. The Bulls play FBS football already.
They have had some recent success. They are convenient and natural geographic rivals to Big East schools like Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia.
Buffalo is actively upgrading their facilities and frankly the facilities they have look nice and new. Buffalo is a BCS-caliber academic school as they are ranked as a US News Tier One school academically.
If the NFL Bills do in fact leave town in the next 5-10 years, the Bulls could be a state flagship that own the city's sports dollars much like the Texas state flagship University of Texas owns Austin, TX (DMA No. 51).
Why not? In media terms Buffalo is a good, but not great market. It is big enough to be a good college town, but is shrinking, has NFL competition, and has had economic issues for decades.
Branding the university "SUNY Buffalo" or the "University at Buffalo" or "UB" also does much to limit the fan support potential to Buffalo rather than Western New York, which technically they should eventually own.
It is a shame they could not be "The University of New York" and go by "UNY". It really minimizes the view of UB from outside the city limits and even more from outside the state.
It should be a pretty big deal to be the largest state university deemed a state flagship in the largest population state in the US. It could be tomorrow, but sure isn't today.
Throw in a poorly thought out (but improving) stadium, major competition from the NFL for public sports dollars, and you have a recipe for the athletic mediocrity that is UB's athletic programs today.
Upgrade Candidate: Temple University Owls
2009 Average Home attendance: 17,379 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level)
Stadium Size: 68,532
Media Argument: Philadelphia DMA #4 in the US.
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? They are the school most likely to deliver TV relevance in Philadelphia, a market crucial to the football Big East. Temple has an enormous alumni base, most of which lives in the Philadelphia DMA.
As a former member of the Big East, it is easy to imagine them being "given a flier" academically by the powers that be in the BCS if Temple can fix their attendance issues. And that may very well be possible.
If Temple could build a 40,000-seat stadium on campus, they could much better harness their enormous fan base pulling crowds potentially twice as large as they do playing miles from campus in the Eagles' stadium.
That increase in turnout would build a larger fan base over the years, making them an extremely valuable team in TV terms to a BCS conference.
Temple has what I consider a strong site for a stadium on campus in their sports and recreational fields area. Additionally, there is the field at Cecil B. Moore Avenue between N. 11th and 12th Streets that also would seem well suited to a smartly designed stadium.
(On some maps this is listed as part of Temple's campus. On others it is listed as Cecil B. Moore Park. If it is a city-run park, it would be a good candidate location for a stadium. If local politicians felt pressure from Temple alumni, the city does have another park twoblocks away that can serve that park clientele.)
Why not? They are not a US News Tier One school academically. They have not historically been able to convert a very large enrollment into the revenue streams required to maintain a strong FBS-level program.
I believe that all boils down to the fact they do not have a home stadium. Temple basketball after all, with it's on campus arena, the Liacouras Center, does just fine.
The Philadelphia Eagles' stadium is cavernous and far, far too large for Temple's current fan base. Really, Temple should only play Penn State there. It is just way too large for any other Temple opponent.
Fans do not like sitting in mostly empty stadiums. It is located too far away from campus. Almost every BCS school has an on campus stadium because it allows them to draw students to the games very easily. This is a big problem for the Owls.
Temple has not been able to use the size of their alumni base to earn the support of local politicians to assist them in resolving the longstanding, but largely unacknowledged problem with Temple athletics, the lack of a home field for their football team.
Upgrade Candidate: University of Delaware Blue Hens
Location: Newark, Del.
2009 Average Home attendance: 20,750 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level; 4th among FCS programs)
Stadium Size: 22,000 (soon to go to 30,200)
Media Argument: They are technically in the Philadelphia DMA, No. 4 in the US.
In Footprint or Out: Another flyover state. IN.
Why them? They are expanding to a stadium size that could lend itself to FBS status. They draw well and are an FCS power. They are also a strong academic school in the US News Tier One.
They are the state flagship university and largest university in the state. Being in the Philly DMA helps their case.
Why not? Do they want to move up? They stadium enlargement suggests that is the eventual goal, but Delaware has historically been quite content to make a profit at the FCS level.
Are they willing to change gears and become a team chasing the BCS dragon; pushing money into facilities in an endless game of keeping up with the Joneses?
Additionally, how media relevant would they be in Philadelphia? One would think their are probably a lot of Delaware grads in the DMA, but what kind of viewership would that translate into?
Upgrade Candidate: University of New Hampshire Wildcats
Location: Durham, N.H.
2009 Average Home attendance: 7543 (Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level)
Stadium Size: 8000
Media Argument: Boston DMA (#7 in US). Although they are on the fringe of the DMA, they have a fairly large alumni base in Manchester and near Boston and in that DMA.
In Footprint or Out: Out, but close by.
Why them? Proximity to Boston and Manchester. The Wildcats have a lot of good stuff working for them.
They come very close to filling their stadium suggesting they have done a pretty good job of maintaining a fan base at the FCS level. That could translate.
They have a reasonable sized enrollment for an FBS school and they are located somewhat close to Boston.
Alumni generally flow to nearby large cities, so New Hampshire could potentially be surprisingly TV relevant in Manchester and Boston at a higher level of competition.
New Hampshire is ranked as a US News Tier One school academically .
Why not? They aren't close to anyone currently in the Big East. The track has to go and the stadium has to be rebuilt. Can they get the funding to build a 35,000-40,000 seat stadium? How TV relevant are they really?
Finally, what kind of attendance could be expected? This is not an impressive add to the Bowl people.
Despite their FCS success, it is possible that New Hampshire may top out at MAC-level attendance as an FBS school.
Upgrade Candidate: Appalachian State University Mountaineers
Location: Boone, N.C.
2009 Average Home attendance: 24,004 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level; 2nd among FCS programs)
Stadium Size: 21,650
Media Argument: In the Charlotte DMA (No. 25), but a good distance from Charlotte.
In Footprint or Out: Out
Why them? The three-time FCS champs are as big of a name as one can find at the FCS level. They have an FBS-sized enrollment.
They are the 800-pound gorilla of the FCS, AVERAGING a sellout plus 2500 folks sitting on the grass.
There is a good reason to believe that App State is already a far better candidate athletically and competitively than anyone in the Sun Belt today.
It seems likely App State could fill a 30,000-seat stadium tomorrow if they built one...and that is playing FCS ball. That's salty.
Adding them with ECU could give the Big East an argument of North Carolina wide relevance and that is a good state in media terms.
Why not? They are not exactly next door to Charlotte and that could hurt them a bit in terms of what they can bring to the Big East on their own.
They are not a US News Tier One school academically. If you are going to reach far out of your footprint for a North Carolina school and one that isn't a top academic school, would ECU be a better candidate based on their better stadium and better proven attendance?
Upgrade Candidate: Ohio University Bobcats
Location: Athens, Ohio
2009 Average Home attendance: 17,947 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level last year, but often annually straddles the line between that and the Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level.)
Stadium Size: 24,000
Media Argument: in Columbus DMA (No. 32) although a ways from the city. Could develop a statewide following in a BCS AQ conference. Lots of Big DMAs in Ohio.
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? Ohio would be a nice bridge between Louisville and Cincinati and West Virginia and Pitt. It would give the Big East two of the top three DMAs in Ohio.
Ohio is a BCS-caliber academic school as they are ranked as a US News Tier One school academically .
Why not? The stadium would probably need to be rebuilt. Is the money there for something like that?
Like the Buffalo DMA, the Columbus DMA is a nice add, but it is smaller fish than some of the other media markets on this list.
Additionally, as Ohio State already owns the market, it would be difficult to earn much TV credibility locally until attendance went up. How much would it go up in the Big East?
Upgrade Candidate: University of Miami (Oxford) RedHawks
Location: Oxford, Ohio
2009 Average Home attendance: 11,810 (an awful year had them falling to the lower end of the Borderline FBS/Strong FCS level last year, but they usually draw in the 15-16,000 range.)
Stadium Size: 24,268
Media Argument: Cincinnati DMA is big already (#33) and if it merges with Dayton's DMA (#62) as rumored may one day occur as the cities grow together into a DFW-like Metroplex, the end result would be the #20 DMA in the nation.
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? Miami is not only a US News tier 1 school academically and therefore BCS caliber, they are also one of a handful of schools deemed a "Public Ivy" for their academic work.
Adding a school of this academic caliber would be quite a feather in the cap of the Big East.
Why not? Do you really need another school in the Cincinnati DMA? A thorough analysis is needed. How much stadium renovation is needed? How much new parking? How much road work?
What costs would really be involved? How reasonable would a move up be for this school? This may be the kind of school that would make sense in a larger football playing Big East than a 12-member conference.
Upgrade Candidate: Old Dominion University Lions
Location: Norfolk, Va.
2009 Average Home attendance: 19,728 (Solid FBS; Elite FCS level; 5th among FCS programs in their first year playing football. A Mirage?)
Stadium Size: 19,782
Media Argument: Norfolk is DMA No. 42 in the US.
In Footprint or Out: Out
Why them? ODU finished fifth in the FCS in attendance in their first year playing FCS football. They are a large university offering a somewhat strong market in Virginia. They have a strong basketball program.
Why not? They are not a US News Tier One school academically. Their stadium is ideal for FCS play for them, but may not translate to a higher division of play with renovations.
ODU may just be lightning in a bottle at the FCS level. As you run through this list it seems a real shame that CUSA hasn't broken along geographic lines.
There are certainly a lot of candidates who maybe aren't Big East level, but could do very well playing the UCFs and ECUs of the world.
Upgrade Candidate: SUNY Stony Brook Seawolves
Location: Stony Brook, N.Y.
2009 Average Home attendance: 4082 (below the Borderline FBS/Strong FCS-level cutoff)
Stadium Size: 8300
Media Argument: In the Nation's No. 1 DMA, NYC.
In Footprint or Out: IN
Why them? The fact that I have them on this list and not other schools will be hotly contested by many, but Stony Brook's positives are outstanding for the needs of the Big East and at least should be mentioned.
Stony Brook does have a large enrollment, the majority of which live in the NYC DMA, and do at least play football at the FCS level.
This potentially could give the Big East 3 BCS AQ teams at key locations surrounding NYC proper. That might be enough to force local media to cover the Big East more.
Adding say Army and Stony Brook on either side of the city could help cover the Big East from a potential Rutgers loss.
Stony Brook is a BCS-caliber academic school as they are ranked as a US News Tier One school academically.
They are also the second largest "state flagship" in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Stony Brook is on Long Island. There is not a lot of high level competition for sports entertainment dollars out there.
While New York City is a pro city, there is nothing to suggest Long Island could not or would not support a BCS program.
It seems a reasonable proposition that a lot of Long Islanders would rather see a local BCS game than make their way across Long Island and the city to see a pro game at the Meadowlands.
Why not? There is very little that suggests Stony Brook is a BCS caliber school waiting to happen or even that the school is moving that way. They are a young school.
That works against them in every factor as a candidate. Their reputation is not there. Their decades-long established booster and fan base is not there.
It takes a while to develop a BCS-level fan base and Stony Brook is well behind the curve and all of their competition on this key criteria. There is also the issue of funding.
Stony Brook had a hell of a time securing the funding to build an 8000-seat FCS-level stadium.
A heck of a lot of things would have to fall right for Stony Brook to make this jump today or even tomorrow. This is more of a down-the-road candidate.
Others not mentioned...
No list is ever complete. I have tried to include the usual suspects and schools that deserve to be considered, but here are a few that I arguably overlooked.
Houston Cougars: While ECU has unofficially offered to join the Big East as a football only school, other CUSA schools have not. The powers affiliated with Houston appear to be after full Big 12 membership.
Joining the Big East as a football-only member could actually work against them in that effort. Joining the Big East as a stepping stone to Big 12 membership could be very risky.
Could Houston compete as a distant outlier in a conference? Their athletic budget suggests no.
SMU Mustangs: Mustang fans won't like this description, but it communicates their position accurately to fans of the rest of the country.
SMU today is TCU East, but a much lesser version. The Mustangs have some large donors, but their athletic budget is still small for a BCS candidate. Their attendance is rarely above 20K per game.
Now should the Big East consider two Texas schools as travel partners, SMU and TCU could combine to give them relevance across DFW, but that scenario is highly unlikely.
The Methodist school has many of the same issues as TCU without the BCS bowl resume. Does that change in the next few seasons?
Rhode Island Rams: The Rams have a decent FCS program in terms of fan support saddled with long term stadium issues that have hobbled the program.
Meade Stadium is a 5,180-seat catastrophe. It is supposed to be a tribute to longtime Rhode Island booster Jack Meade.
I have a feeling he would not feel it was much of a tribute today as that stadium drags down Rhode Island football.
5,000 seats just doesn't allow enough money making potential to do anything but post a financial loss in a huge footprint FCS conference like the CAA.
About 2,000 of the seats (the ones against the Ryan Center) are quite nice and would make great end zone seating or part of a nice sideline in the event of a stadium dig down.
The other 3,000 seats have apparently been condemned. That would seem to put the entire program in question following the collapse of football at nearby fellow CAA members Northeastern and Hofstra.
This is a moment of truth for Rhode Island. The fans and politicians out there can either step up and put this football program on the right track by getting an appropriate stadium built or football will probably be gone within two years.
Either way, it makes little sense for the Rams to play football in the CAA.
Rhode Island does have FBS potential (especially down the road), but really should probably be a strong FCS school.
Their stadium situation caps their incoming revenue. They have much greater potential than they have been able to show. Their football program should be a peer to New Hampshire's and Maine's, but their stadium prevents it.
Howard Bison: Howard is an interesting name. They are a private with a 10,000 seat stadium and an enrollment of 9000 and are located in Washington, D.C.
Ultimately, I felt they were far too much of a reach as an FCS school with a 2009 per game turnout of only 3898.
Any Big East candidate in D.C. is going to have to build a BCS level fan base in the shadow of the NFL's Redskins. At a starting point of 3898, that is a lot to ask any time soon.
Howard is an HBCU. For those of you who are not aware of HBCUs, let me explain. HBCU stands for "Historically Black Colleges and Universities."
Howard is frequently referred to as the "Harvard of HBCUs". HBCUs in general draw very well for football.
Howard is far from the best HBCU football program at the FCS level, in fact they are among the worst.
Most HBCUs do very well playing other HBCUs. Howard does not seem to do so. While uninspiring play is a factor, the small-time nature of FCS in a big-time major NFL city seems likely to also be an issue.
With their prominence, they might be the kind of school willing to think about making an eventual jump to the FBS world.
They make a lot of sense in terms of the goals fleshed out in the previous Bleacher Reports in this series...but the reality suggests that cannot happen any time soon. There is simply too far to go.
I have probably overlooked some schools, gave far too much credit to some, and maybe in some readers' minds short changed others. I look forward to reading your opinions as I put together the fifth and final bleacher report in this series.