Conference USA and the Mountain West announced Friday a football consolidation of their combined 22 schools "in one large association."
The plan is for the champion of each conference to then play in a championship game perhaps as soon as 2012. The unique, first-of-its kind arrangement will span five time zones and reach from the East Coast to Hawaii. The arrangement had been discussed by the two leagues for more than a year and even had its own new conference name, at least in this blog.
There are no assurances that the champion of the new consolidation will get a BCS bid moving forward, a high-ranking BCS source said.
The current BCS deal with ESPN extends through the 2013 regular season and 2014 bowls.
"Who knows whether there will even be a BCS [beyond 2013]," said Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky. "There are some folks who believe if you play at the highest level you deserve it, regardless if you're champion of a particular conference. We will stand up as one champion and speak with one voice and expect our champion to be recognized at the highest level. "
How long the association stays at 22 schools is up for debate. CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy reported Friday that the Big East is poised to invite four schools, three of them from Conference USA and the Mountain West -- Boise State and Air Force from the Mountain West, Central Florida from Conference USA and Navy, an independent.
"I believe Boise and Air Force are gone [to the Big East]," said one source familiar with the Mountain West.
If that's the case, there are plenty of schools left over for the "Big Country". The Mountain West has been around since 1999. The league is currently at eight members, but is losing TCU after this season to the Big 12. It will grow to 10 in 2012 after gaining Hawaii (football only), Nevada and Fresno State from the WAC. The 12-team Conference USA has been in existence since 1995.
The new consolidation could grow and shrink with ease because of its size. The consolidation most likely will debut in 2013, even though 2012 remains possible. There will need to be a change in NCAA legislation allowing the two CUSA championship game participants to play 14 games. CUSA will continue to have its own conference championship game before that champion meets the Mountain West champion.
The current NCAA limit is 13 for regular-season games.
"I don't think it's nutty at all," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said of the new arrangement. "It's proactive. It's bold in some way. We're trying to position our members in the best light possible."
On its face, the move seems to be part of a gold rush for an automatic BCS bid that could be up for grabs. The Big East holds one of those six automatic bids through the 2013 season. However, that bid is in danger with the Big East down to six members after the loss of TCU, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
It is trying to rebuild with the addition of Central Florida, Air Force Navy and Boise State.
"We've got 22, and they're at 6," Banowksy said. "I will tell you there is room for everybody in this college football world."
One industry source said there are only four schools with television appeal among the 22 in the new consolidation. The Big East would be taking two of them, Air Force and Boise. SMU and Houston are the others.
The same source that the Big East's addition of Air Force, Navy, Central Florida and Boise would make up for the loss of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and TCU in terms of football, markets and television appeal.
Thompson said the Air Force and Boise presidents participated in the vote to form the new consolidation.
"They both mentioned they were in contact with the Big East, but did not elaborate," Thompson said.
Banowsky said he does not expect to lose Central Florida, one of the largest universities in the country.
It the modern world of cutthroat college athletics, the Big East's move could essentially keep Conference USA and Mountain West out of the BCS until at least the 2018 season.
"They [Mountain West/Conference USA] could still merge but the value is gone," one source said before Friday's announcement.
"It's all about inventory and it's all about programming" Thompson said. ""Better is better and more is better in the television industry."