The Big East Conference, which includes UConn, confirmed today that it will pursue a 12-team football league, following the recent announcement of the departure of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the league.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto also said during a national teleconference that conference members unanimously voted to double the penalty fee for institutions leaving the league from $5 million to $10 million.
The expansion announcement comes as part of the flurry of speculation following the news in recent weeks that Pitt and Syracuse will join the Atlantic Coast Conference, the same league that lured Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College from the Big East in 2003, just as UConn was preparing to move up to the Bowl Championship Series, the highest level of college football. Last year, the Huskies received their first invitation to a BCS post-season bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Arizona.
Marinatto declined to discuss specific institutions the Big East is speaking with about joining the conference, but emphasized that the league is aiming to “focus on the future and develop and plan to keep the Big East strong, stable, and vital.”
“We are confident we can achieve [expansion] with the mix of schools and markets that honors our history, protects our future, and extends our reach and influence as our 14 members remain committed,” he said. “Our membership firmly believes the Big East Conference continues to offer a unique brand competition and inherent value, given the institutions we represent, the media markets we serve, and our fan base with a strong roster of teams.”
The most recent announcement of other major football conference realignments came three days ago, when the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA said they will merge.
Answering a question about the timing of when new members will be named, Marinatto said, “Stay tuned. We’re working diligently. We’re not going to rush ourselves to meet anyone else’s deadline. My hope is that once this landscape is resolved, the better for all of us; the sooner the better.”
Marinatto said that with a 12-member football conference, the Big East would explore having a league championship game in New York City, where the conference has staged its successful basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.
In response to questions about further changes that might affect the conference’s basketball-only members, the commissioner said he would not rule out further expansion to improve the Big East’s acknowledged strength in basketball, the historic origin of the league.
“We had nine schools make the NCAA tournament last year,” Marinatto said. “We also fully recognize that this convergence was built initially on basketball. I won’t close the door on further expansion specifically to enhance the basketball prowess of our league.”