After yesterday/today’s big news, it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before Navy and Air Force joined the Big East so the league could get to 12 teams (the magic number to split into divisions and stage a championship game). Now, it appears there’s about to be a wrench thrown into that whole plan. Or maybe multiple wrenches.
With Air Force officially saying “thanks, but no thanks” (using the surprising logic of travel time and geography!) and Navy apparently locked into independence until at least 2014, the Big “East” is once again in a tough spot. Do they wait around for the Midshipmen, or just move on two new options? Logistically, if they manage to force Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia from departing for greener pastures in 2014, the conference becomes even more of a mess — supporting 13 schools for football, and 19 for basketball for one season — and that’s assuming they stand pat. If they add two more teams, now you’re looking at 15 for football (ironically, a superconference) and possibly 21 (!!!!!!!!) for basketball. Horrifying.
As much as Navy made sense before, especially with Air Force in tow, adding them no longer pays real dividends. The conference needs additions to be further west, to help bridge the enormous geographic gap between current schools and the recent five invitees. As much as people like watching the military academies, Navy usually has an eight-win cap on their season (and that’s while making their own schedule) and may not even be the biggest draw in the Annapolis area. Without a natural rival (Rutgers?), any remaining intrigue around their contests vanishes and people just wait out the string until we get to Army-Navy come years’ end.
So what’s left? As always, Temple is the top replacement candidate, and the conference would be foolish not to add the Owls for all sports. Unless, of course, they fessed up to the fact that they are no longer a basketball conference. In that case, now you’ve suddenly got some better options: ECU, Southern Miss, Toledo, Marshall (and their hoops program’s on the upswing) — hell, why not throw Tulsa into the mix? No, none of these solutions are perfect, but “perfect” went out the window for the Big East long ago. They have to do what’s necessary to survive. In this case, it might mean compromising basketball (gasp!) for the good of the football side.
Parting thoughts: They’ll end up adding Temple and Navy. However, if I were John Marinatto (and thank God I’m not), I add ECU and Southern Miss, and call it a day. Not only do you invade ACC territory, but you also inch a bit further west, making it slightly less awkward for UCF to be in the same division as Boise State. Once again, it’s not perfect. But how can it be anymore?