It's been said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy nor Roman, and not much of an empire. Kinda like the modern-day Big East Conference. And the Big East, as a football power conference, is about to join the Holy Roman Empire.
The seven non-football members of the Big East are expected to pull out - maybe as soon as next week - leaving a rump conference constituted of basically members of Conference USA, circa 2004. While the BCS likely will keep the Big East as an AQ conference in 2013, that'll simply mark the end of its football relevance.
Even if nothing else changes, by the 2014 season, only one of the Big East's seven founding members - Connecticut - will still be in the conference. In fact, UConn will be the only member at the end of the 2004 season that will still remain in the Big East. Of the 12 teams currently expected to play a Big East schedule in 2014, eight used to play in Conference USA, two in the Mountain West, plus Temple, a one-time Big East football member that was invited back in after getting booted.
But that's making a big assumption. We're going to see a whole lot more shifting and realigning even before the next football season kicks off. Here we break out the crystal ball to look at what else might be happening before the 2015 season (and check out this helpful chart for easy reference):
1. Whither Boise State (and to lesser extent, San Diego State): There's no doubt the Broncos are the kingmakers among the Group of Five that'll be christened in BCS 2.0 come 2014. They still have a few months to decide whether they want to opt out of the rump Big East and return to the Mountain West, or go independent, a la BYU. The new Big East's TV money will be substantially less than originally anticipated when Boise signed up two years ago. So essentially, it'll have to decide if one year's AQ status is worth a lateral move. It says here Boise goes back to the Mountain West, a move that San Diego State will have no choice but to follow.
2. What's Mountain West's next move?: If Boise State and San Diego State return, then the conference will have 12 members and be able to stage a championship game, which would allow it to renegotiate its TV rights fees. The MWC probably would try to lure BYU back as well, but it wouldn't be a necessity as long as it can reach the magic number of 12.
3. Is the Big Ten done expanding?: In a word, no. While rumors circulated that Virginia and Georgia Tech would be the B1G's next targets, so far that's proven unsubstantiated. Georgia Tech is a longshot, as Jim Delany would like to keep the conference geographically contiguous. It's more likely that the Big Ten would add Virginia and Kansas, both AAU members, which is important to conference presidents. And both schools would serve to expand the B1G's TV footprint - UVa to fortify the Washington D.C. market and KU to bring in the Kansas City market.
4. There we go, so the dominoes start anew: The Big 12 would have to make up for the loss of Kansas and possibly make two more moves to reach 12 teams, so it can get back to the conference championship business. The schools it could target include, besides BYU and Boise State, Florida State. And if desperation strikes, possibly Houston and SMU, members of the old Southwest Conference, who would like to return to a solidly Texas league like TCU did.
5. So the ACC is next: If Virginia and FSU leave, the ACC would try to fill those holes. Naturally it'd be time to go after the two remaining worthwhile members of the Big East carcass, UConn and Cincinnati, and get back to 14.
6. What will be left of the Big East: If all the above scenarios take place, the Big East becomes C-USA Lite, with only at-best eight schools remaining. At this point its options would be limited to either raiding a couple more C-USA schools or joining C-USA to form a superconference with 20-plus schools. Also, Navy might reconsider joining the Big East as a football-only member in 2015.
7. Pac-12 and SEC ... do they have more cards to play?: They will, in the words of Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, "continue to monitor" the landscape. But both leagues are probably pretty satisfied with their current memberships and neither is in danger of losing any teams to another conference.
OK, take a deep breath and let your head stop spinning. Here's my best guess for what the major conferences might look like by 2015:
Big Ten (16 teams): Add Rutgers, Maryland, Virginia, Kansas
ACC (14 teams): Lose Maryland, Virginia, Florida State; add Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, UConn
Big 12 (10 teams): Lose Kansas; add Florida State
Pac-12 (12 teams): No change
SEC (14 teams): No change
Mountain West (12 teams): Add Boise State, San Diego State, Utah State, San Jose State
Big East (8 teams): Temple, South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, SMU, Houston, Tulane, East Carolina
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