Should the Big East Pursue Army & Navy?
College sports, particularly football, is in transition. Beginning on July 1, the University of Nebraska will move to the Big Ten Conference. This move follows other changes which includes Texas Christian University heading to the Big East Conference and Colorado and Utah joining the newly minted Pac 12 Conference this summer. These changes have competing conferences looking at options, but the Big East is apparently not done with expanding, at least on the football level.
The addition of TCU to the Big East gives this league 17 teams, but only nine schools play football. Most of the other big football program leagues will now have at least 12 teams, which allows for those leagues to secure fatter and more profitable television contracts and permits these leagues to hold a football championship game in early December. With three more teams needed for title game eligibility, the Big East Conference is at a disadvantage, but does the league really want to expand to 20 full members to reach 12 football teams?
Brett McMurphy, a senior writer for CBS Sports believes that Army and Navy might appeal to the Big East Conference as football-only schools. This would mean that the two service academies would give up its independent status’ and join the league. Both schools regularly schedule Big East teams and are in geographical proximity to join the league. Splitting the league into football-only and other sports categories has been done before, in fact that is how the Big East started when the league launched two decades ago.
Army and Navy, however, may not be the best fits for the conference. Although both schools have national recognition and each program landed a bowl game last year, neither school brings to the league the football prestige of a school such as TCU. Navy has consistently performed on a higher level than Army, and might be competitive in a new league. However, like Army, the service academies seem satisfied with its current schedules which are soft enough to virtually guarantee a lucrative bowl invite year after year.
Army, which barely made it to a bowl game this past season, most likely would finish at or near the bottom of the Big East year after year and would most likely not see a bowl game again. Besides, the two schools play each other in early December in a lucrative, bowl equivalent finale. That same game, played at the end of November before a proposed Big East Conference title match up, would lose some of its prestige.
Should Army and Navy join the Big East, the league would still be one school short. The logical twelfth choice would be Villanova, a Philadelphia university, but that school’s transition from a lower level FBS program to a BCS program has not been universally embraced. Initially, the Big East encouraged Villanova to step its program up a notch, but opposition has emerged from some current members who question the school’s commitment to build a stadium large enough to matter. At present, the school plays in an 18,500 seat soccer stadium and needs to have a stadium seating at least 30,000 seats to qualify. Still, that’s too small in a day when many schools have stadiums seating at least 50,000 fans with many seating tens of thousands more.
Three other schools were mentioned by McMurphy, each of which has drawn the attention of other analysts in recent months. The University of Houston, a geographical neighbor to TCU, is one choice. The University of Central Florida, in proximity to the University of South Florida, is another choice. East Carolina University, in Greenville, N.C., has also been mentioned. Expanded football stadiums are in the works for ECU and Houston. Central Florida would give everyone additional access to the talented Florida high school recruiting pool. UCF would also have the largest student body of any Big East school.
Although Army and Navy have the history, integrity and national visibility that could benefit the Big East, the league’s expansion would be best benefited by inviting East Carolina, Houston and Central Florida. Memphis is another choice, but the Tennessee school would need to receive a full invite because its men’s basketball program is even better than its up and down football team.