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4-1-Zoo: Big East Expansion — The Targets

TCU

Head coach Gary Patterson of the TCU Horned Frogs takes to the field with offensive guard Josh Vernon #78 and tackle Zach Roth #70 against the BYU Cougars at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 16, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Big East presidents met Tuesday and approved a plan for the conference to expand from eight to 10 members in football.

It was really a matter of when the Big East was going to announce its expansion plans, no if it would expand. So now that the conference is officially moving forward with expansion, it only seems fitting to break down the players in this conversation to determine what two teams make the most sense.

The potential schools to become Big East members are as follows: TCU, Villanova, Central Florida, Houston, East Carolina, Memphis and Temple.

There are probably other players, but those six schools are the most talked about and rumored to be offered membership. Only one has been offered membership to the Big East: Villanova.

The Wildcats almost surely will be one of the 10 teams that form the new Big East because they’re already a member in basketball and all Olympic sports.

Basketball is a main concern for the Big East, which already has 16 basketball members. Adding one more basketball school is already overkill — two more would be nearly unmanageable.

Basketball isn’t the only draw, though. Villanova has a very successful FCS football program and won the national championship last year. The Big East hopes the Wildcats can make a quick and successful transition to FBS football, just as UConn did when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left for the ACC.

So if we agree that Villanova is a lock to push the membership to nine teams, the best option to expand to 10 would be TCU.

Rumors have swirled so far this season regarding TCU joining the Big East. Some sources have said that the Horned Frogs already received an invite from the Big East, but nothing has officially been confirmed.

Clearly, TCU could leave the Mountain West — which appears much weaker and less attractive with Utah and BYU leaving next season and the absence of an automatic BCS bid — and join a better situation in the Big East — which would provide the Horned Frogs an automatic bid to the BCS if they win the conference. Switching conferences would be a more lucrative and prestigious move as well.

However, TCU surely has worries that the Big East could still be picked apart by the Big Ten, ACC and any other conference looking to expand. If that were to happen, the Horned Frogs could end up on the outside looking in again. If Rutgers, UConn, Syracuse or Pitt were to jump to a different conference it would be very hard for the Big East to survive and hold on to its automatic BCS bid.

With all that said, Villanova and TCU are the most likely options for the Big East. But if one or neither of those teams decide to join the Big East, here’s how I see the others fitting in…

Central Florida:

UCF is the next best option. The Knights play in a prominent media market and have a program that has experienced some success in recent years. They could jump in to the Big East and be competitive, while providing the conference a legitimate market to set up a TV network (which is the real goal in all of this expansion talk).

Houston:

The Cougars have been very good in Conference USA and would be a great addition to the Big East. Their membership depends solely on the decision of TCU, though. There is no real benefit to the Big East to add two members from Texas when it could grab the Dallas market with TCU and the Philadelphia market with Villanova.

East Carolina:

The Pirates have also had a high level of success in recent years. However, they are in a much smaller market. After UCF and Houston, the dropoff in expansion options is pretty severe. East Carolina leads the second tier of options, but it if gets down to the second level the conference will be no better than when it started.

Memphis:

It’s really a mystery to me why the Tigers are even in the conversation. Outside of the DeAngelo Williams years, this program hasn’t done much. It has been horrible recently and is not in a top media market. The only real reason I see Memphis as a player is because former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese holds a position there.

Temple:

This is even weirder. Sure, Temple has risen to respectability under head coach Al Golden. But really, it’s only a matter of time until he gets a better job at a better program. Then what happens to the Owls? They have a horrible fanbase and no prestige. It’s hard to argue Temple over Villanova in the Philly market.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog
Twitter.com/Chris_Gates
Chris.Gates@cbsradio.com