George Frey, Associated Press
NEW YORK — The Big East is working hard to put BYU in its new west wing.
A person with knowledge of the conference's expansion plans tells The Associated Press that Big East officials have made adding BYU a priority as they try to become a 12-team football conference.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because negotiations were supposed to remain confidential.
BYU is in its first season as football independent. If it did move to the Big East it would be for football only. The school's other teams play in the West Coast Conference.
The Big East is close to adding as many as seven new members, including Boise State, Air Force and Navy for football only, and SMU, Houston and UCF in all sports.
Boise State is primed to make the jump to the Big East. Two weeks ago, the Idaho State Board of Education gave the school permission to pursue membership and leave the Mountain West Conference.
But with Boise State nearly 1,900 miles away from the closest current Big East member — Louisville — school officials have let Big East Commissioner John Marinatto know that they would prefer a western partner. BYU is located in Provo, Utah. Provo and Boise are 382 miles apart.
BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall said last week that there was a "push" by the Big East to have BYU join.
The Big East has been working toward adding Boise State, the two military academies and the three Conference USA schools for more than a month.
The plan was formulated in response to the announcement on Sept. 18 that Pittsburgh and Syracuse were leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Then another spot in the Big East opened late last month when West Virginia announced it was moving to the Big 12. At that point, Temple and Memphis seemed like strong candidates to join the league, but BYU has moved past those schools now, the person said.
The C-USA schools are ready to make the move and Navy also seems to be leaning heavily toward joining, the person said.
Air Force has been non-committal about leaving the Mountain West, and that is part of the reason why such focus has been placed on adding BYU, the person said.
BYU's television deals could complicate the process.
When BYU left the Mountain West Conference last year to become a football independent, it signed a deal with ESPN that gives the network the rights to air a minimum of three football games a season. The deal runs through 2018.
The school also has its own cable network, which airs at least one football game a season.
The Big East will begin negotiating a new television deal next year.
Part of the Big East's recruiting pitch has been that the new members would stand to make substantially more in television revenue by joining the league.
Boise State President Bob Kustra estimated the annual payout to Big East football members at $3.7 million under its current TV contract, compared to the $1.9 million projected as the top payout in the Mountain West. Big East officials believe the league will be able to more than double payouts to members with the league's next TV deal.
Even if the Big East can get all seven schools to join, there is no guarantee the new Big East will be up and running by 2012.
Conference USA bylaws would stand in the way of SMU, Houston and UCF joining in 2012, and it would be less costly for Boise State and Air Force to join the Big East in 2013 instead of next year.
Marinatto has been adamant about making Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia comply with the league's bylaws and stay in the league until 2014.
West Virginia already has sued the Big East in an effort to become a Big 12 member next year. The Big East counter-sued to keep the Mountaineers.
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