Unless you have been living in a cave for the last year or so, you would have noticed the NCAA conference alignments shifting. These changes led to the Big Ten having 12 teams and the Big 12 having 10 teams. The Pac-10 expanded to the Pac-12. There were more rumors floating around than bats in that cave you were dwelling in.
During much of this madness, the Big East has remained relatively quiet. At the beginning of this free-for-all the Big East consisted of eight teams for football—Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse and West Virginia. An important thing to remember is that the Big East also consisted of eight basketball-only members—DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Saint John's, Seton Hall and Villanova.
One move the Big East did make was to add poor-geographically fitting TCU for both football and basketball beginning in 2012. You could debate if the pros outweighed the cons with that move, but what is done is done.
Even with TCU the Big East sits at only nine teams in football, which makes it the weakling in the BCS herd. As the weakling, the Big East is in grave danger of getting poached to the point of extinction should one of the predators on the prowl get hungry for super-conference status.
The Big Ten could potentially go after Pittsburgh and Rutgers, as both currently meet the needed requirements for entry. If Syracuse settles their dispute with the AAU and gets back in, they could be in play as well.
I think Louisville and West Virginia are both dark horses for SEC expansion.
Every team is a virtual target should the ACC decide to raid the conference again like they did when they swiped Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami, FL. Only four teams would be taken, but it would most certainly spell the end of the Big East as a football conference.
The Big East needs to get up to 12 members in football pronto if it wants to get back on solid ground.
They have three options: (1) convince former members to rejoin the conference, (2) poach teams from a lesser football conference or (3) get a current basketball-only school to join for football as well.
There are four former members of the Big East. Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami, FL all left as previously mentioned to the ACC. I can't fathom either Virginia Tech or Miami, FL even considering rejoining the Big East. It would be a wash financially, a lateral move for both football and basketball, and they would be leaving a conference that is a better geographic fit.
However, Boston College could be in play. They have the same neutral factors in play, but they would actually gain a geographic fit by rejoining the Big East. I'm not saying they would return for sure, but they would at least give it some serious consideration.
Around the same time those three schools defected for the ACC, the Big East kicked Temple out of the league for football. Temple went independent at first and eventually ended up as the MAC's 13th team. Al Golden did a fantastic job of reviving the Temple program before he left for Miami, FL. Adding Temple back in for football only should at least be a consideration for the Big East; I am sure Temple would jump at the chance.
There are only two candidates from lesser football conferences that make sense: Memphis and Central Florida. The Big East really cares about basketball more than most conferences. They also tend to have their members hail from large metropolitan cities within their geographic footprint.
Memphis would be a great pickup for basketball and their football cachet should improve as they move from Conference USA to the Big East, just like Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida before them. Memphis is hands down the most mentioned school when expansion and the Big East are mentioned.
Central Florida doesn't bring the level of basketball prowess that Memphis does. From a football perspective, you could argue it is a wash. However, they do play in Orlando, which meets the big city requirement, and they would finally give South Florida a legitimate rival in the league. The Golden Knights really don't get you excited, but you need to add three more members. There are certainly worse options out there.
Finally the current basketball-only members can enter the discussion. Villanova is the only school currently in the FCS that gave serious consideration to moving up to FBS-level play. They have had tremendous recent success at the FCS level and I think they would make a fine addition. They might struggle at first, but as better recruits start coming through the pipeline, Villanova might start producing a few more Howie Long-type players.
It also helps that adding them in football doesn't affect the already crowded basketball portion of the Big East.
Now for the Golden Goose—or should I say the Golden Domers?—Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is currently a member of the Big East for every sport except for football. Instead, they hold on to their independent status and garner preferential treatment from the BCS given their historical significance, giant fan base and national following.
It certainly is not fair to the rest of the teams in college football and, frankly, if this ever gets settled in the national courts it could be ruled illegal—you have a multimillion dollar industry that is giving special treatment to one entity. It does not matter how important that entity is, the practice is still wrong. If and when this issue ever gets remedied, Notre Dame would have to join a conference if they want to have a chance at winning championships.
I propose the Big East make the following decree to Notre Dame: Join for football or we are kicking all of the other sports teams out of the Big East. Notre Dame's best option if they left would be to join a league like the Atlantic 10 if they are dead-set on remaining independent for football. Something tells me the majority of Notre Dame alums would not be thrilled about that.
The Big East has almost nothing to lose by issuing this ultimatum. Only football and basketball are revenue-generating sports. Losing Notre Dame in basketball would hardly put a dent in the league from a perception and financial standpoint. More likely than not, it would still be the deepest and most talented league. Also it would return the league to 16 teams (assuming they do not add more members), which makes scheduling and the postseason tournament a million times easier.
Notre Dame and the Big East both have a lot to gain by going all in with their relationship. The Big East gains a ton of respect by adding a top-caliber program like Notre Dame and, if they can get to 12 teams, the conference becomes much more likely to survive this realignment Armageddon.
They also get to host a conference championship game, which would increase revenue by a tidy sum. Notre Dame gets the peace of mind of never having to worry about being left out of future BCS deals and, if they perform like they are capable of, they should represent the Big East in a BCS bowl on a pretty regular basis.
If the Big East does get to 12 teams, I propose the following dream alignment for the league:
North Division—Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and new additions Boston College and Villanova.
South Division—Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida, TCU, West Virginia and new addition Notre Dame.
Even if the three new additions change, the incumbent teams would remain in the same division (with the exception of Cincinnati possibly getting bumped to the North Division in some scenarios). The same can be said for the new additions as well, for the most part, depending on who the three teams are.
The Big East needs to force the issue with Notre Dame or they might not exist in the near future.