The Western Athletic Conference recently crowned what appears to be its last champion in football, as Utah State won the conference title this season.
Soon, college football fans may be saying goodbye to another football conference, and this time, it is basketball that is driving the decision.
The Big East was actually founded in 1979 as a basketball first league, only deciding to pull in some of its members into a football consortium in 1991. Most of the programs that the Big East pulled in were independent programs at the time.
The league grew, and was raided by the ACC in 2004. But the league grew again, raiding Conference USA to add member schools. Now, after a couple more raids by the ACC and a poaching of Rutgers by the Big Ten, the league’s non-FBS schools are drawing a line in the sand.
According to sources as reported by ESPN and USA Today, the “Catholic Seven”—DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova—will leave the conference.
If that move were to be completed, Connecticut would be the only remaining founding member of the original basketball conference. Temple was a founding member of the football league, but the school was dismissed from the conference for eight years before rejoining as a football only member in 2012. The Owls become full members of the conference in 2013.
Part of the hold up with regards to the departure of the Catholic Seven is ownership of the Big East name, and who would get to use the name and the venue of Madison Square Garden for their tournament. In addition, exit fees and if they are applicable to this group are also up for debate.
The departure of the Catholic Seven could have a major trickledown effect among the remaining member schools, as well as affecting the future of the newcomers to the league. As it currently stands for 2013, this would be the football membership of the Big East:
Louisville (2013 only)
Rutgers (2013 only)
San Diego State
However, Connecticut and Cincinnati’s standing as members in the Big East could be called into question if the Big Ten and the ACC feel the need to expand again, as they would be the most likely targets for future expansion by those leagues.
The larger issue, however, is what might become of the other schools that have (or are leaving) the leagues that they are currently in? The rationale for Boise State and San Diego State leaving the Mountain West and joining the Big East was to take part in a larger media contract and better media exposure than either program was receiving out west.
If the Big East as it is were to fracture, however, and the media rights that were supposed to be there when the league still had Rutgers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh evaporate (as it seems has happened) then the Broncos and the Aztecs might want to see if the Mountain West would take them back into the fold.
With Utah State and San Jose State set to join the Mountain West in 2013, bringing Boise State and San Diego State back into the fold would get the conference to 12 football playing members, which would allow for a conference championship game to be held.
Conference USA, though, has already accepted new members to replace the schools that have committed to departing in 2013, which might leave those schools (SMU, Houston, UCF, Memphis) with a difficult decision to make, as the league they thought they were joining would turn out to be no better than the league that they just left.
It is a difficult decision facing these schools as the realignment wheel continues to turn.