This is the final installment of a series of five Bleacher Reports dealing with the near impossible issue of Big East expansion.
The first report dealt with where the Big East is today after the near implosion of the Big 12 . The second 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.
The fourth was a Bleacher Report list with 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).
In this 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 while explaining how they meet the BCS needs facing the Big East. I will also apply the general plan discussed earlier and hopefully pull the whole thing into focus.
I encourage readers to read the previous four articles in this series before reading this one because they clarify many of the issues facing the conference, and as such, make the logic of these conclusions more apparent—even if one still disagrees.
Leverage and limitations
In the previous articles we concluded that the 16-team Big East basketball conference is a revenue machine as far as basketball goes and that affiliation with the basketball schools provides an additional edge academic perception over for the football Big East over the Mountain West Conference that the football schools would be stripping away if they chose to break away.
This lead to the conclusion that any football expansion should be done with the idea of protecting the existing Big East and it's voting balance - therefore football only memberships, not full memberships should be the carrot the Big East uses.
(It should be noted that as the Big 12 was melting down there were rumours the Big East was prepared to add Memphis and UCF as all-sports members. It is entirely possible that there was some truth to that if the Big East was anticipating the loss of say Pitt and Rutgers.
In that scenario the Big East would need 2 reasonable replacement all-sports candidates as soon as possible. Timing would have been the key. Those two schools make a lot of sense with 8 basketball schools outvoting 6 football members.
Memphis is a strong basketball school and UCF would ease the bite out of travel on the basketball schools on their trips to Florida to play USF. The 8 to 8 voting balance would be restored. With unnamed masses working together behind the scenes to negotiate the TV deal that stopped the Pac-10's power play on the Big 12 , there is a feeling that "predator conferences" like the Big Ten are going to move cautiously for a while as to not experience the same fate.
Today adding those two schools as all sports members would give the football schools voting dominance and much greater control over the direction of the conference.)
(Additionally, according to ECU AD Terry Holland, The Big East has apparently taken a bunker mentality in their approach towards expansion. ie. They aren't looking to add anyone as it might upset the voting balance of power. Maybe this report helps change that. Maybe not.)
Now in general, a football only membership is not an enticing solution for schools if they may lose a good all-sports home conference. That said, there was an alleged leak from East Carolina within the last two years that suggested to get their foot in the door the Pirates would gladly take a football-only membership to the Big East.
Other potential candidates like UMass and Temple have a very functional home for basketball and other sports in the Atlantic 10. Army and Navy have a comfortable and cost effective home for their non-football sports in the Patriot League.
Right there in short order we have comprised a list of 5 schools who might accept a football only membership to the Big East to gain entrance to the BCS. That suggests a football only membership to the Big East may be enough of a carrot to get the league over 12 members, so the Big East has the leverage to not have to offer all-sports memberships - which could destabilize the good elements of the Big East.
Would candidate schools like UCF and Memphis accept football only memberships?
One would think they'd like to not have to make that decision, but the Big East appears to have a lot of potential willing suitors and therefore a good deal of leverage if they chose to expand in offering only football-only memberships.
Additionally, as expressed in the earlier reports in this series, the Big East should require stadiums that meet minimum criteria from candidate schools that currently lack the required stadium criteria. That only increases the available number of candidates from which to select new members. It seems likely the Big East has the leverage to insist upon that as well.
Minimum effort plan
Conference realignment is hard.
Commissioners spend a portion of their time investigating and playing out expansion scenarios. They advise the powers at their members schools (be they athletic directors or university presidents) of their recommendations. Then they watch those people who spend maybe 1% of their work day thinking about the conference make the big decisions and sway their peers one way or another.
You have to get a number of Banana Republic-style University dictators to agree that their kingdoms are lacking and that they need the help of a university that is less advanced (in their eyes) to reach their goals. Think about that sales job for a second.
Even if you can convince these people that something is needed, it only takes one or two of them thinking they have a better idea to derail the whole process.
The Big East has 16 potential wild cards in their deck.
I am pushing for a radical change (or at least minor changes in a ton areas), but the facts are when it comes to realignment conferences tend to do just enough to get by.
The Pac-10's attempt to go to 16 was bold because they hired great visionary leadership and that leadership secured approvals for various scenarios beforehand. Sadly, their fallback position appears to have been a legacy plan, a relic from the previous administration, and appears to have not been meticulously re-evaluated.
(Certainly if an invitation to a BCS conference can be "earned" by on the field play, no one can argue that Utah didn't "earn" their Pac-10 invitation. I think in general that kind of thinking is poor realignment logic though. I'll touch more on two questions that should trump all other concerns in realignment scenarios in a second.)
Now, questions of who goes in what division and other concerns have the once very solid Pac-10 reportedly getting somewhat heated behind closed doors. (I said at the time Hawaii was a better choice, but the facts are the league management got certain scenarios pre-approved and it seems pretty apparent Utah specifically was the conference's pre-approved plan B.)
Adding Utah amounted to adding a generic school that everyone agreed was decent enough in order to get a title game. It amounted to doing just enough to get by.
And after all the debate and big plans, that is what conferences generally do.
With that in mind I am going to start with a minimum effort scenario to meet most of the goals I have laid out in the earlier reports and should buy the Big East five to 10 years. It is a scenario that requires the Big East to require absolutely nothing from their basketball members while still protecting their interests before I get into what I consider a more ideal scenario—one that tries to bind the conference together more for the long term.
Bottom line decisions
The Big East is the undisputed weakest BCS Automatic Qualifier conference only in part because their attendance lags behind the other AQ conferences. They also have the fewest members, arguably among the least impressive academics, and I think most importantly they have by far the worst TV potential.
As I mentioned earlier, I think there are two questions that should outweigh any other factors in realignment. Good realignment decisions generally have to answer two questions positively.
What does adding this school bring to the table for the conference?
What does adding this school cost the conference?
If you can add something of irrefutable value at a cost that is bearable, realignment generally occurs. It might take a while as human ego gets in the way, but it happens.
I think these questions point in two directions.
The TV money has to go up
I think Big East football is so vulnerable because they cannot generate TV revenue due to the big market doughnut hole in the Northeast. The adds have to be all about generating TV revenue.
The expansion has to be done in a way to satisfy the power schools in the BCS
It doesn't do the Big East any good to add good draws if those schools are looked on by other BCS conferences as non-BCS AQ caliber schools.
Expansion to 12 or more football playing schools reduces the per team share of the automatic bid revenue for each Big East football member to a level less than member schools of more highly ranked BCS AQ conferences, removing that target from the Big East.
Caution is required though. If the Big East comes out of this with a conference that resembles CUSA or the WAC more than an BCS AQ conference, they could find themselves displaced from the AQ ranks and more likely to be raided.
The NYPBDC Problem
The NYPBDC Problem stands for the New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC problem. Those are #1, #4, #7, and #9 media markets in the US.
So lets talk about markets. Designated Market Areas. If the Big East loses Rutgers, they lose relevancy in the only one (The NYC DMA) of the five big markets in the Big East basketball footprint (the above four DMAs and Chicago, the #3 DMA) in which they currently enjoy a football presence.
You have to protect the NYC DMA.
NY DMA #1 in the US
The NYC DMA has 6.5% of the nation's viewership. Here is the approximate breakdown of the top 10 DMAs in the US.
1) NYC 6.5%
2) LA 5.0%
3) Chicago 3.1%
4) Philadelphia 2.6%
5) DFW 2.2%
6) The Bay 2.1%
7) Boston 2.1%
8) Atlanta 2.0%
9) D.C. 2.0%
10) Houston 1.8%
The NYC DMA is potentially worth 3 DCs, Houstons, or Bostons. I think this suggests that in an ideal world the football Big East should really consider having multiple teams in the NYC DMA anyway. Retaining The NYC DMA long term and developing a greater media impact in the DMA have to be the most pressing goals of Big East expansion.
Today, there is only one school that fits the bill.
Team 9: The Army Black Knights
From the Big East perspective: Army has an acceptable 40K stadium. With their somewhat limited resources they are totally content playing their other sports in the cost efficient Patriot League. They draw 30K to home games, but they're a top road draw.
In this way they can help a lesser expansion candidate in the Big East look better. They are a welcome bowl team. They have a tremendous national audience that can make Big East football look quite a bit better to ESPN. They have a lot of fans in the nation's capitol which is another Big East football problem area. Army has respected academics.
In spite of their somewhat low home attendance and questionable ability to compete on the field at a BCS level, it is very unlikely the BCS power teams would have major objections to their inclusion in the BCS. It is an extremely sensible media add, and would be respected by the BCS powers for that reason.
Then there is a cost savings for the BCS too. If Army is in the Big East, the BCS can stop paying a small stipend to Army every year. It is a very small amount, but it is money saved. They are a very high value add for the Big East. Finally, it is possible that legislators in Big East states could help push this through using government channels as a "cost saving" measure for the government. (Technically it would be.)
From Army's perspective
If I were Army's negotiator I would insist on 2 things to get the school into the Big East:
- An assurance that Army would be in a weaker Coastal Division for the first 10 years which would allow them to compete better.
- That the league will mandate the minimum number of manditory games in conference possible.
If Army cannot compete in the Big East, but they only have to play 5 games against Big East opponents, that is very workable. They can go 0-5 or 1-4 in the Big East Coastal Division, possibly have some kind of split with Notre Dame, Navy, and Air Force and still go 5-0 vs the UNTs, WKUs, ULLs, FIUs, NMSUs, and EMUs, of the world. That could have a 6-6 finish very possible with even a mediocre Army team. In that scenario they would still be able to get the exposure of playing a 13th game in a bowl somewhere.
There is enough wiggle room there that the Black Knights could have their cake (exposure in big Northeastern markets, a share of a BCS AQ conference payout, a share of a BCS conference TV revenue) and eat it too (be able to make bowl games with even average teams and stay in the very inexpensive and competition appropriate Patriot league for all other sports).
Chicago, DMA #3 in the US
There are very few candidates in the Chicago Market. Northern Illinois in DeKalb is technically in the Chicago DMA and does play FBS football, but with their turnout can they deliver any Chicago viewership? Financially it does not look like they have the budget to compete in the Big East as an outlier. Academically they aren't what the BCS powers would want in a BCS conference.
DePaul is a Catholic non-football Big East school and won't want to mess up that alliance. Loyola Chicago likely can't afford it/doesn't want to play football and the University of Illinois at Chicago doesn't have football and isn't highly enough ranked academically overall to earn academic respect from the BCS AQ power schools.
I feel that is the Chicago list.
Philadelphia, DMA #4 in the US
In talking about securing Philadelphia, the issue most likely comes down to a very simple choice.
Temple or Delaware?
Assuming Temple builds an on campus stadium and Delaware is willing to do further expansion to their stadium, both schools would be perceived as at best neutral adds in the view of the BCS powers.
Temple, as a former Big East member, a strong basketball program, a large enrollment university, an understandable media draw, and a program on the upswing on the field, would probably be cut a break on unspectacular academics - if an appropriate stadium is in place or being built.
Delaware has been pulling 20K per game at the FCS level for what seems like forever. It seems pretty likely that they could handle a move up. They are currently doing stadium upgrades and have done the same in the past. They seem to have the alumni support and local support to get stadium upgrades done. Academically they are BCS caliber.
So the choice really boils down to which would the Big East prefer? I think since Temple has a much larger Philadelphia Alumni base they would be the first choice of the Big East in landing this market.
Team 10: The Temple Owls (if they get an on-campus stadium built); Probably Delaware if they don't.
From the Big East perspective:
Temple has to build an appropriate on campus stadium (40K capacity) ready to go by 2018 (at worst) to get in. That has to be the bottom line. The Big East really needs that message clarified to everyone in Philadelphia. Temple seems to think that not having a secure deal in an NFL home got them kicked out of the Big East.
I think the Big East needs to send a very clear message to everyone in Philadelphia that an NFL home for Temple is not a positive. Playing in a 70% empty stadium is not a positive for an entity trying to build a fan base. There is a reason MLS teams build small capacity soccer specific stadiums rather than playing in large college football stadiums anymore.
They are building fan bases by ensuring a certain level of intimacy and scarcity of tickets. That helps build demand and a fan base. Temple needs an on campus stadium that they can sell out from time to time. They need an appropriate number of luxury boxes. They need to be able to sell those out too. They don't need to be playing football miles away from their student body.
Out of sight is out of mind. Lack of a home field essentially robs Temple of potentially half of it's game day audience. Without those numbers, their money generating potential is suppressed and has proven in the past they would quickly show they cannot compete in the Big East.
The Big East needs to explain that Temple playing in Lincoln Field for their regular home games will never get them into the Big East and could lead to the collapse of their football program.
From Temple's perspective:
I wonder about Temple. They seem to have the potential the Big East likes, but the decisions since they were booted from the Big East appear very questionable if the goal is ever being allowed to rejoin the Big East. Temple supposedly wants to be in the Big East, but how does signing a long term deal top play at Lincoln Field until 2018 help them? What is the deal with the exclusivity clause making them the only college team that can play there? They need exclusivity? Why? I guess I can understand if they want the leverage to force Penn State or Pitt to have to play Temple at Lincoln rather than a neutral site game at lincoln, but that is about it. I can understand the need for a temporary home, but why has Temple not been trying to get their own stadium built? Why is an exclusive deal worth tying the program to a stadium that is vastly overbuilt for their needs and will always retard the growth of the program? Do you really need Lincoln Financial Field to host MAC teams? Playing in Lincoln Financial Field amounts to competing head to head with the NFL for public ticket dollars. You are playing in the same venue. There is a reason FBS schools in NFL cities struggle with attendance. NFL teams eat up the public's football ticket dollars. On the positive side, Temple has something other schools like Rice and SMU in NFL Killzones don't....A huge enrollment. Leveraging that enrollment is the only way Temple can become a Big East caliber draw. Playing games at an Lincoln Financial Field 6 miles away from campus does not allow Temple to do that. It eliminates a large chunk of their student body turnout and as those students aren't going to games, it weakens student (and therefore alumni) support for football. (I am uncertain if any BCS school plays their regular schedule 6 miles away from campus. If so, it is probably a very, very short list, because it is a horribly bad business practice.) Playing at Lincoln Financial Field gives a weak game day experience (watching a game in an empty stadium) that loosely affiliated football fans won't pay for with any consistency. Those people will spend their money on Eagles tickets instead. With the general public staying away and a good chunk of the potential student audience staying away, Lincoln Financial Field is nothing more than a pretty cavern. Only hardcore Temple alumni and boosters will regularly attend games there. Temple needs more than that. Temple desperately needs the Big East to set them straight. They need the Big East to frame the argument to Temple's leadership and the residents of Philadelphia. It has to be clear that Temple has to build an on campus stadium or the slot goes to another school and the Big East never looks back. Temple needs the Big East to publically state if Temple builds a 40K on campus stadium, The Owls will be in the football Big East long term. They need to put the big fat carrot of a Big East permanent football home and it's ability to generate the revenue to run a program without big financial losses in front of Temple's large alumni base and their local Philadelphia politicians.
(Getting a stadium built absolutely can be done. As I mentioned in an earlier report in this series, they have the space. Getting the funds is probably workable too. The University of North Texas is a similar sized university in the DFW Metroplex that is having an $80M stadium built with the students paying half the bill via athletic fees. This is noteworthy because UNT is a music school. Their student body is proudly comprised of "band geeks" who largely despise football, but love their school. When they were properly educated about the needs of the university and the benefit a new stadium could offer, those students voted to use student raised funds to build a good football stadium for the school. If UNT can do it, there is no reason Temple cannot. All it requires is good, hard working leadership.)
Boston, DMA #7 in the US
There are not a lot of candidates who can potentially deliver Boston Media relevance. Boston College isn't going to walk away from a $13M TV check, playing Miami, and being in a better academic conference. The list may in fact really only consist of one school.
Team 11: The University of Massachusetts Minutemen
From the Big East perspective: UMass can add a lot of value to the conference, but they have to build an appropriate stadium with a capacity in the 40K range. They are well respected academically. Like Temple they are one of the strongest basketball programs in the Atlantic 10. They are a strong FCS program annually. They are in Central to Western Massachusetts which is geographically beneficial for the Big East creating the potential of somewhat short travel for the team and Big East fans. The school's proximity to the intersection of I90 & I91 seems a real positive for a potential Massachusetts Big East member. This would allow the supplimenting of their turnout with travelling fans from schools like Syracuse, Temple, UConn, Rutgers, and Army - something that would be much less likely if they were based in Boston. UMass has alumni across Massachusetts which means their inclusion likely would help in Boston as well as the other DMAs in that state, so that gives a UMass add a little added value. A UMass addition may effectively help the UConn and the Big East dominate New England recruiting at the expense of Boston College. For some Big East schools, hurting Boston College a little might be enough on it's own. UMass is likely to not be quite as successful as UConn as a UConn level investment will not be there and they will not have a stadium in a fairly major city with no NFL competition like UConn. Still with an appropriate stadium for Big East competition, they should draw fairly well due to location.
From UMass's perspective: Like Temple, UMass needs The Big East to more or less say, "If you build it, you are in the football Big East permanently." UMass needs an acheivable goal to rally support to build an appropriate 40,000 seat stadium.
The District of Columbia, DMA #9 in the US
Navy is equidistant from Baltimore and D.C. A combination of Army and Navy would likely to be strong enough to give the football Big East enough pull to be media relevant in D.C. The problem is Navy may not want to join and there are a few other issues including competitiveness that make adding two academies to a 12 team football Big East a tough sell.
I had originally thought that team #12 should be UCF, if they would accept a football only bid. They might not. UCF rightly has a very high opinion of their value.
They have sole ownership of a very strong DMA in a football crazy state and a huge alumni base fueled by the third largest enrollment in the US. They rightly feel they are a slumbering giant. It is entirely possible that within 10 years of joing a BCS conference, they could be drawing 50-60K per game. They may be the only candidate with that kind of potential. They might be inclined to hold out for an all-sports membership. Afterall, there is a strong argument for Big East members to be able to take the expensive trip to Florida and play two universities instead of one.
The trouble is, who do you add on the basketball side? Who gets approved? How long does that take? The Big East would be wise to get some football cushion fairly quickly. Can they really afford to futz around negotiating full membership for UCF and non-football membership for someone else today?
You cannot just push UCF into the kind of feeder league we have discussed in earlier reports in this series either. Travel to Florida could kill budgets at FCS and I-AAA programs. A feeder league would be in part designed to control travel costs for large schools at lower levels of competition and get them on solid financial footing. Could UCF land a good native non-football home? It could be tough to make happen.
If they could, my thoughts were adding UCF as a non-football member would allow a stacked central "Rustbelt Division" with USF and a weaker eastern "Coastal Division" with UCF. Schools from both divisions would have their recruiting toehold in Florida helping them build the talent bases for competitive BCS teams, but there is no guarantee UCF would take a football only membership.
No other BCS conference is going to add UCF barring a massive realignment. The Big East does have leverage there. It just seemed a scenario that didn't lend itself to a quick resolution.
Further, as I thought about it, I decided Army, Temple, and UMass with UCF is just not very impressive to the BCS powers either and could make the conference look weaker.
Painting a picture of BCS worthiness for the BCS AQ powers.
What would be impressive to the BCS power schools?
The answer jumped out.
Army and Temple (with an appropriate stadium) are likely neutrals in the view of the BCS AQ power schools. UMASS is academically fine and provides a good market argument. Additionally I think (could be wrong) they would not have a value in BCS computations and therefore would not mathematically hurt the Big East. On principle some BCS power schools would view them unfavorably as an FCS upgrade candidate. Adding TCU essentially give the Big East such a power boost that I think it amounts to a free pass on expansion.
Team 12: The Texas Christian University Horned Frogs
From the Big East perspective: If you remove TCU from the MWC, the MWC's slim BCS hopes are totally gone. That pleases the BCS power schools and firmly removes the MWC from potentially competing with the Big East for the future last AQ slot. TCU is in a big market even if they are only relevant in part of it. While TCU won't help the Big East's TV revenue in that regard any more than TCU helps MWC TV revenue, having a toehold in DFW still looks good to BCS power schools. TCU's strong records over the first part of the current evaluation period (and likely in future periods) raises the power of the Big East to a point where the Big East is probably safe for the next couple BCS evaluation periods. TCU is a school that probably the SEC and the Big 12 have considered behind closed doors as a candidate, but not as a front runner. Their football program is indisputably BCS caliber. TCU has proven they have the resources and budget to compete as a distant outlier and a willingness to jump conferences for a better deal with no remorse. Most Big East teams would not get a recruiting bump from the addition of TCU as most Texans do not gravitate to northern football, but fallen titan Louisville might. If Louisville could add 3-5 top DFW players each year, this would be an important gain for the conference.
From TCU's perspective: I think this is a move TCU would very strongly consider. Their boosters would love to get to use an automatic BCS bid and potentially face UT or OU for a national title in a BCS bowl. A football-only membership in the Big East offers Frog Boosters exactly what they desperately crave. Joining a BCS conference would allow TCU to recruit better in Texas. They would be better than they are today. Additionally an eastward facing conference offers far more media coverage for a Texas school as two thirds of the US population live in the eastern time zone. It is a preferred layout for a school like TCU. TCU needs a non-football sports home if they accept a football-only offer to the Big East. The MWC would likely boot them out if their rules don't already spell out an all-sport membership requirement. CUSA may not take them back if TCU would not offer CUSA football. Perhaps the Big East could broker a deal to land TCU in say the Missouri Valley Conference for its non-football sports. The MVC is a strong basketball and baseball conference. The Big East could "buy" TCU's admission with a scheduling alliance that could bump up MVC schools' strength of schedule helping the MVC land 2-3 teams in the NCAA tournament each year instead of one. That could help TCU too. A scenario like that that would likely clear the last hurdles for TCU. This kind of "one step forward, one step back" realignment movement may seem far fetched to fans in basketball territories, but Texas is a football state. TCU boosters want to be in the Big 12. With UT, OU, Tech, and A&M all having bigger alumni bases in DFW than TCU, there is no motivation for the Big 12 to ever admit TCU. Combine that with TCU saying they would move to block Baylor from MWC admission when it looked like the Big 12 would collapse and it seems likely TCU also has enemies in the Big 12. The only way I can imagine TCU getting in today is if they follow exactly this kind of scenario, go undefeated in the Big East, use that AQ Bid to get to a national title game. In that scenario, UT and OU may feel a need to bring them in house as TCU would have an easier path in the Big East and therefore a greater chance of keeping a 1 loss Big 12 power out of the title game.
The minimal effort scenario
If the Big East wants to go to 12 football playing members by offering football-only memberships, that would be the ideal 12 team BCS Big East, IMO.
Non-football sports are easily addressed.
Army can stay in the Patriot League. UMass and Temple can stay in the Atlantic 10. Only TCU has non-football sports concerns and as addressed earlier that is probably manageable. I suspect there is little TCU wouldn't do to get their football team into a BCS AQ conference.
Rusty Frog Division
This is the minimal effort plan to get to 12, but it doesn't earn the conference any loyalty from the football only schools or any increased loyalty from the current football playing members because it does nothing to predict and address the future needs facing those schools.
I think this could protect the Big East's BCS status for the next five to ten years, but does little to ensure the conference's long term survival because there is no commitment shown to the football schools by the basketball membership. It in fact could speed up a split.
That said, it seems a workable plan in the short term. For a lot of Big East fans frustrated by no years of no workable solution to their unstable position, at this point practicality far outweighs the ideal but more difficult. For those Big East fans, feel free to stop reading here.
A more ideal long term scenario
In previous reports in this series, I have mentioned working for longer term security. With the addition of TCU, the competitive issues are addressed to such a point that I think the Big East could really get away with adding 2 more teams slightly less attractive to the BCS powers at that same time. Going to 14 for football puts the Big East in a much smarter competitive position.
At 12, if the Big East lost say Pitt and Rutgers to the Big Ten, any addition would be viewed as another move of desperation to get back to 12 and protect their conference championship game. At 14, they can lose two and add two more and it would be looked at as maintaining a cushion, a much less desperate position.
Getting to 14
I would recommend UCF as #13 and preferrably Navy as #14. If either won't join, I'd add Delaware and double down in the Philadelphia DMA.
UCF would push USF out of the Coastal Division (where they would be in a 12 team setup) to add another potentially winnable game to the Coastal schools's schedules. That would give schools in both divisions recruiting toehold in Florida.
After "losing out" to TCU, UCF might be more willing to take a football-only membership. Perhaps the Big East could promise them preferred status when an all-sports membership slot opens as a sweetener to the offer.
Navy would help in D.C., but if they won't come, Delaware would help Temple draw better by creating a nearby rival. In this way and with their mere presence in the Philadelphia DMA, they would reinforce the conference's Philadelphia presence.
Navy (or Delaware)
Rusty Frog Division
This kind of layout smartly games the system. The Rusty Frog Division (Rustbelt + Horned Frog) would likely produce the BCS representative. If they run the table on their half, they are not likely to get tripped up in the championship game against the Coastal champion, which helps the Big East overall in much the same way the Big 12 used to work.
The Coastal Division can run up mirage records against weaker division members (and if I were consulting them, I'd recommend a heavy diet of non-AQ conference OOC foes). They can use those inflated records to build fan bases. The Coastal Division would be designed to deliver short travel to build more acceptable attendance numbers via local rivalries and traveling fans.
The "Little East"
Offering football-only memberships to schools is a tough sell if they don't have anywhere for their other sports. As I mentioned in one of the previous reports in this series, it makes a lot of sense in a variety of areas to set up a feeder conference - a "Little East" - to provide tomorrow's Big East members.
In that regard the America East conference is the natural candidate to become the Little East as they are primarily comprised of public schools in the Northeast - the key territory for the Big East and the exact kind of schools that might one day aspire to Big East football membership.
There are nine existing members in the America East. Five do not play football (Hartford, Maryland-Baltimore County, SUNY Binghampton, Vermont, and Boston) and four do play football (SUNY Albany, SUNY Stony Brook, Maine, and New Hampshire).
To make the membership in the America East appear to more valuable, there have to be carrots for schools that have no immediate FBS dreams.
The conference needs a minimum of 7 FCS playing members to get an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. Big East member Villanova could easily move their football only membership to the Little East. As mentioned in the extensive discussion on the Little East concept in the third report in this series, the basketball schools could help finance Georgetown going from a non-scholarship football only member of the Patroit League to a full scholarship football-only member of the little East.
That gets the league to 6 FCS football playing members.
Adding the non-football sports for Temple and UMass doesn't help a lot in that regard, but does add the value to make the conference more attractive. They have two strong basketball programs that would immediately pull the America East up to a mid-major status in that sport.
Delaware could be dragged in as an all sports member with a promise of an FCS berth and favored status if the Big East should expand again. That gives the seven FCS football playing members required for an FCS playoff berth.
I think there is a good chance Rhode Island might be convinced to join as an a football only member and possibly as an all-sports member to stay affiliated with Villanova, Temple, UMass, and Delaware and dramatically reduce their travel costs. CAA membership has already put Northeastern and Hofstra football out of business. Rhode Island football with it's issues appears likely to be the next program to crumble under big football travel costs in the CAA.
It seems likely former America East member Central Connecticut State could be lured back in. They have a lot more in common with the mostly public school membership of the America East than they do the privates of the Northeastern Conference.
Fordham a member of the Atlantic 10 and a football only member of the non-scholarship FCS Patroit League. They are a larger Catholic private University located in New York City. Fordham is adding scholarships for football and will need to find a new league. It would make a world of sense for them to join this kind of Little East as a non-football member. If, for example, Notre Dame should ever leave, Fordham would at that point be the sensible replacement non-FBS playing football member in the Big East. Taking it a step further, A Pitt/ND departure for the Big Ten could comfortably filled with a UCF/Fordham full sports membership offer, protecting the existing 8 BFS football school vs. 8 non-FBS school voting balance. This kind of alliance opens the door for that kind of move.
A variant of the Delaware deal could be used to pull The State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo in. Buffalo's chances of moving from the MAC to the Big East are between slim and none. In the MAC they will never draw sufficient attendance to be a realistic Big East candidate. Playing a Big East loaded schedule as an FBS independent and being a non-football member of the Little East would be great for all parties.
Finally New Jersey Tech would be a sensible non-football add to give the conference a presence in New Jersey. That gives the conference a presence in every state in their region. That would help to make it seem a bigger deal. NJT may not have any skins at all athletically, but they are a respected academic school on the New Jersey side of the NYC DMA.
Any good overall plan should lay the groundwork to protect the conference from potential future raids.
The kind of Little East I propose offers the chance of building a lasting alliance with the SUNY system. With all four of the major SUNY schools in the Little East, shared goals between the SUNY system and the Big East could lead to improved stadiums at UB and Stony Brook. The schools could be smartly groomed to move up as a pair in 5 to 10 years.
With the Big East effectively sponsoring Buffalo, there would be no reason for Buffalo to continue playing in the MAC. A 14 team Big East could easily fill an independent football playing UB's schedule. Playing a Big East loaded schedule would drag up UBs attendance and remove the specter of MAC-level play from their future candidacy. It would create the perception fo a program on the rise. If (and perhaps when) the Bills leave in the next decade, adding an empty Buffalo DMA and another NYC candidate could be quite a good option.
UB with attendance in the high 20K to low 30K range (stadium allowing) would be a very defendable candidate.
Likewise the coastal Big East schools could take turns playing a cross classification game against Stony Brook, dramatically raising that school's football stature on Long Island and hopefully leading to attendance gains and stadium enlargment funds to become available.
In the short term the SUNY schools, Delaware, and the former Atlantic 10 schools would be the glue holding the two conferences together. In the long term, the SUNY schools and Delaware could be the saving grace for the Big East when the Big 10 and possibly the ACC eventually raids the Big East.
The confererence would play in divisions of geographically sensible regions in the other sports.
I know many will bristle as the fact that schools like Memphis with thier national power basketball program and East Carolina with a strong, well supported, and growing football program did not get even a mention in this final Bleacher Report of the series.
It isn't that those schools are technically unworthy. They and others not mentioned in this last report have nice positive attributes.
The thing is those attributes don't fix the deep problems that face the Big East today.
If the Big East was struggling to get teams into the top 25 it would make a lot of sense to add the strongest football programs possible. Maybe in that scenario, expansion might look like TCU, Houston, ECU, and...I dunno... Troy, Appalachian State, Delaware, or even SMU.
If the Big East was a struggling basketball conference, it would make sense to go after schools like Memphis, Tulsa, St. Louis, Dayton, Butler, and others.
The idea is to take what you can bear to get what you desperately need and the football Big East desperately needs big TV markets.
The facts are the Big East is only a little weak in football (in BCS terms) and is quite strong in basketball. Their weakness is far more insidious and potentially far more destructive.
The football Big East has a dearth of major markets. That prevents them from landing BCS-level TV revenue, which further weakens the football product vs. other BCS conferences and builds resentment towards the non-football members. Sensible expansion has to move to address that wedge issue first and foremost to protect the long-term stability of the conference.
Well...that's my two cents. I doubt anything will come of it, but I feel a tremendous weight off me having written it.