The process of expansion is finally going forward after years of the football schools complaining that something has to be done to alleviate scheduling problems and to hopefully add value to a football affiliation that struggles mightily in comparison to larger conferences.
"Today, our Board of Directors affirmed a set of key strategic initiatives, including expansion, designed to enhance membership stability and maximize our value,'' commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement.
He also said the conference will not comment further regarding the details.
The possibilities, though, seem fairly obvious. Villanova, which fields a Football Championship Series football program, has been asked by the conference if it has an interest in upgrading to FBS status as Connecticut did in 2004. If the Wildcats agree, the effect would be two-fold: The league could add one member without further bloating the basketball side of the equation, and it would take a vote away from the basketball members who might ultimately object to expansion.
Adding Villanova, though, would require a tremendous financial investment on the part of the school, and there is great debate on that campus as to whether it is in the best interests of the school to do so.
Villanova would not add much value to the football league from a competitive standpoint. That would likely take the entrance of a recognized current power, such as Texas Christian.
TCU has been informally approached about membership in the league and has apparently not closed the door to the idea. The Horned Frogs, currently No. 4 in the polls and No. 3 in the BCS standings, would seem an odd geographic fit in the Big East, but the school now competes in a Mountain West Conference that is nearly as expansive.
With the Big East agreeing to expand by just two, that would complete the puzzle if both Villanova and TCU make the jump. In fact, there could exist the possibility that TCU would be invited to join the Big East only in football, which, coupled with upgrading Villanova, would mean no new schools on the basketball side. But TCU would then be forced to find another home for all its other sports, which could be tricky.
If Villanova decides to stay put in the FCS, it might open the door for Houston. That might also help grease the skids for a TCU jump to the Big East if the school has another Texas rival in the fold.
Beyond those three schools, the candidates seem to be the usual ones that have been talked about for years - Central Florida, East Carolina, Memphis, Temple or the service academies, Army and Navy. While there are positives to each, the league has never seemed excited about any of them.
UCF, ECU and Memphis have lobbied - at least behind the scenes - for entrance into the league for years with no success. Temple was booted from the league in after the 2004 season simply because its football program and backing were atrocious.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.