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?