Big East adds Boise State, 4 other new members

By Ralph D. Russo

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 5:46 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Dec. 3, 2011, file photo, Boise State players prepare to take the field for an NCAA college football game against New Mexico, in Boise, Idaho. The Big East introduced Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011, Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, SMU and Central Florida as its new members, effective 2013.

Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The new Big East will span four time zones, 3,000 miles from coast to coast and, eventually, have 12 teams.

The beleaguered and ever-changing conference hopes it all adds up to a billion dollar television contract and a spot among the best football leagues in the nation.

The Big East introduced Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, SMU and Central Florida as its newest members, effective 2013.

"The Big East conference is the first truly national college football conference," Commissioner John Marinatto said Wednesday during a teleconference with the university leaders from the five schools. Boise State President Bob Kustra said the announcement was "a significant step forward in the evolution of Boise State University and our football program."

The Big East, depleted by the planned departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, is trying to rebuild as a 12-team football conference with a western division.

It's been a slow process that began in September, and there is still work to be done.

Boise State and San Diego State, which currently play in the Mountain West Conference, will join the Big East only for football. Houston, SMU and UCF will be leaving Conference USA and joining the Big East in all sports.

"We have ambitious plans, and this expansion is a great stride toward reaching them," Marinatto said.

The Big East has also been pursuing Air Force and Navy as football only members, but it seems Air Force is no longer a possibility. Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, the superintendent of the academy, told The Colorado Springs Gazette that the school will stay in the Mountain West.

"We're proud members of the Mountain West, and for now we're going to stay there," Gould told the newspaper in a story posted Wednesday.

Boise State has reportedly worked out a deal to have its other sports teams compete in the Western Athletic Conference, where its football team dominated for 10 seasons. San Diego State is reportedly finalizing a deal to have its other teams compete in the Big West.

The Big East has only five football members committed to the conference beyond this season: Connecticut, Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers and USF. It also has seven schools that do not play major college football and Notre Dame, which competes in the Big East in everything but football.

Marinatto has pledged to hold Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia in the conference until 2014, in accordance with the Big East bylaws. West Virginia wants to join the Big 12 in 2012 and has sued the Big East to get an early release.

The Big East filed a countersuit to keep West Virginia in the conference. Pittsburgh and Syracuse intend to join the Atlantic Coast Conference as soon as possible, but are not challenging the Big East's bylaws.

Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said he expected the Big East might ask his school and Pitt to leave early now.

"They'd need us to move out of the way," said Gross, who was taking part in IMG's Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Marinatto said there have been no discussions with the new members about the possibility of letting the departing members out early. Potentially, that could lead the Big East to have the same eight teams it has now in 2012 and as many as 15 members in 2013.

"I think it's a simple matter of respecting our bylaws," Marinatto said of having lame duck members. "An early departure and a violation of those bylaws would damage the membership."

The Big East was born in 1979 as a northeast basketball conference and in 1991 added football with the inclusion of Miami, Virginia Tech and others.

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