Senior College Football Columnist

Hoops exodus leaves Big East football schools facing big questions

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Now they are wayward, the Big East football schools that never were.

The nine football schools that thought they were buying their way into the Big East just got left out on the island of misfit boys. Boise State gave up geography and two time zones to go to the Big East. San Diego State joined the Broncos. Houston, Central Florida, Southern Methodist, East Carolina, Memphis and Tulane at one time or another left Conference USA for a bump in pay. Navy was due to join in 2015.

There are 13 in all, four of them holdovers -- Connecticut, South Florida, Temple and Cincinnati -- from the conference formerly known as the Big East. What happens to those 13 football schools is the next question now that the seven Catholic basketball-playing schools plan to break away, as CBSSports.com has reported.

No doubt Cincinnati and UConn are trying to stay with their seven Catholic basketball brethren, but will they get an invite? It is now known publicly those schools' administrations would jump at the first chance to go to the ACC.

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Thursday dawned with 13 schools essentially without a conference home, without even a name. In the early moments, it wasn't even certain if those seven breakaway hoops schools would even retain the "Big East" name.

The big winner? Rutgers, which announced it was leaving the Big East on Nov. 19. There may be no entity to pay that $10 million Big East exit fee to.

What happens next for the remaining 13 Big East football schools ...

The moving-on scenario: Those remaining schools now have football as their No. 1 priority. They could move on as one without having to share football-generated revenue with the seven basketball schools.

But without the basketball schools to add value to the television contract -- estimated to be as much as 30 percent -- this is a dicey proposition. CBSSports.com reported last week that the contract could be worth as little as $60 million per year. A 30 percent decrease could put the valuation at $42 million.

Split between 13 schools that's $3.2 million per school. But Boise State announced a year ago it was joining the league with projections in the $8 million-$10 million range.

If the schools stay together, there would still be geography issues with the league stretching four time zones. How much would the cost of jet fuel cut into that $3.2 million? And what is the worth of a conference with Boise State as its foundation, with little value from those Eastern basketball schools?

Part of Boise State president Bob Kustra's reasoning for joining the Big East was East Coast exposure.

The new Big East?
East West
Cincinnati Boise State
Connecticut Houston
East Carolina Memphis
Navy San Diego State
South Florida SMU
Temple Tulane
UCF

The Boise State/Mountain West scenario: The Broncos are going to be fine. Short of staying together with the misfit boys, the Broncos will fit nicely back into the Mountain West. Boise was due to officially join the Big East on July 1, 2013.

As the Big East's future became shakier, Boise State, San Diego State and BYU have been in talks about possible re-entry into the Mountain West.

"There is a reason we stayed at 10 teams," MWC commissioner Craig Thompson said earlier, "there is some room for growth."

The Mountain West presidents "are in a holding pattern," according to a source close to the situation describing the CEOs' reaction after Thursday's news.

"The presidents are a little uneasy about being too aggressive," the same source said.

However, they are being advised that standing pat has possible negative outcomes in the ever-shifting environment.

If they rejoined the MWC, Boise and San Diego State would have to deal with the issue of non-football sports. Boise is currently paying the Big West $1 million per year for the next three years to place its non-football sports in that league. That is supposedly to defer travel costs for the other Big West members. The closest Big West member to Boise is Cal-Davis, almost 600 miles away.

The nationwide division scenario: The teams could be scattered to the four winds -- and time zones.

 Assuming Boise State and San Diego State go back to the Mountain West, that increases MWC membership to 12. At least. SMU and Houston could also join but it's doubtful how much TV value those schools would bring.

 There are few options for schools ending up in Conference USA. By 2015, CUSA will be a 14-team league. Former members SMU, Houston, East Carolina, Central Florida, Tulane and Memphis might be in a cat fight to rejoin their old conference. At 14 teams, CUSA certainly isn't going to take back all six. Is it?

 The big winner might be the Sun Belt. The lowest-rated football conference could have some juicy options having just lost Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, North Texas and Florida International to C-USA.

Schools like Houston, SMU, East Carolina, Memphis and even Central Florida could come crawling on hands and knees, just needing a home. The problem is the Sun Belt has five years left on its TV contract. It is a contract that pays current members approximately $1 million per year.

Best guess: With or without Boise State and/or San Diego State, the orphans make a go of it on their own.

Without Boise as a foundation, the reconstituted league (Big Leftovers?) would have SMU and Houston as the flagships if for no other reason because of some TV market appeal.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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