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Big East contacts Fresno State and UNLV about joining in football

The Big East has “reached out” to both Fresno State and UNLV to join the league on the football side, CBSSports.com has learned. In addition, BYU and Big East commissioner Mike Aresco have at least had informal conversations.

UNLV and Fresno have “definitely” talked to Aresco, according to a source. However, the talks are being kept as secret as possible to keep from “offending people,” such as regents and boards of regents and trustees at those schools.

Aresco is aggressively trying to assemble a group of football-playing schools to keep under the Big East banner. The problem: Uncertainty on all fronts. The Big East doesn't know how -- or even if -- it will proceed in football. The 10-team Mountain West hasn't made a move to expand because of its uncertainty in its TV contract with CBS. The 10-year contract runs through the 2015 season, paying what is believed to be $8 million to $12 million per year. However, one source said conference schools are hoping to gain control of some second and third rights (or games).

Those rights could be owned by the schools (re: pay-per-view) or bundled by the conference to a rights-holder. Either way, the idea is to televise as many games as possible.

“The only reason the Mountain West hasn't moved [is] because of the TV thing,” a source said. “The TV thing is really puzzling.”

There is no certainty on the membership clause that is included in all such contracts. Of the nine-team Mountain West that existed in 2005, only five of those schools would remain in the 10-team league for the 2013 season. BYU just completed its second year of independence after leaving the Mountain West. Current members San Diego State and Boise State are due to join the Big East on July 1.

“That's the bone of contention, membership change,” the same source said.

That membership change is the heart of the issue moving forward. Below the five power conferences, there is uncertainty over which entity would be that No. 6 conference with the upper hand in chasing the playoff bowl berth in most years. The highest-ranked champion among the Group of Five (Big East, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt) will get that berth each year beginning in 2014.

The Mountain West almost stayed out of the BCS because of access concerns. Two sources told CBSSports.com the MWC went up until the last minute before signing the current BCS four-year contract with ESPN. The TV package was vetted both with and without the MWC. There was no change in value. Mountain West presidents eventually decided to sign on. The current BCS deal began in 2010 and ends in 2013 before the playoff era begins.

Mountain West presidents met Dec. 10-11 without resolution on its next move. There is widespread speculation that Boise State, San Diego State and BYU could join the league. ESPN.com reported previously that all three schools had discussions with the Mountain West.

Ajersey.com reported this week that a “western group” of Big East football programs could include Houston, SMU, Boise State, San Diego State and either Air Force, BYU, Nevada, UNLV or Fresno State.

The Big East has 12 teams due to play football in 2013.

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