First, Big Ten-bound Rutgers sued the conference in an attempt to avoid paying its exit fee. Then, the “Catholic 7” — the conference’s legacy basketball programs — broke ranks. And just before the ball dropped on 2013, Boise State announced its football program would remain in the Mountain West Conference; the Broncos join Texas Christian on the list of football programs with a national presence to bail on the conference before playing a single game.
What does this mean for Navy football, which is scheduled to join the Big East in 2015 and had its own rough ending to 2012? Click through to find out.
1. Expect expansion. Boise’s departure would give the Big East only 11 members in 2015 — one short of the minimum required to play a conference championship game. Navy fans should expect another addition to the rotating group of conference rivals to make this game possible. The usual rumored candidates of BYU and Air Force are probably good places to start; talk of adding Army has died down since September.
2. Or, expect contraction. Boise State must pay an exit fee to leave a the conference even though it’s never played a game there, but CBSSports.com reports San Diego State wouldn’t have that problem; the Aztecs have language in their contract that lets them walk, free of charge, if there are no other Big East schools west of the Rocky Mountains. A move back to the MWC for SDSU — one of that conference’s founding members — seems possible. That would leave another opening on Navy’s future conference slate come 2015.
3. MWC mayhem. The Mountain West Conference now sits at 11 teams, also one short of a lucrative title game. CBSSports also reports the MWC could target Southern Methodist and/or Houston, both slated to join the Big East, to fill that gap. If the MWC were to poach both Texas schools in an effort to reach 14 teams, that could make it nearly impossible for the Big East to reform as a 12-team football conference. Navy would be out the chance to play in a conference title game (likely the week before the Army-Navy game, in an interesting schedule quirk) come 2015.
4. Basketball and branding. The departure of the Catholic 7 basketball programs won’t change Navy football’s future schedule, but it could change how much money the school will receive from its conference television contract. This could work out as a net positive for Navy’s balance sheet — fewer schools means fewer ways to split the pie — or it could make the overall package less attractive to a top-tier sports network, resulting in less cash. One way it will help the Mids is the branding issue — the Big East, whatever its new form, will be desperate for a fresh identity, now that its founding football members (aside from Temple) are all gone, along with its iconic basketball programs (Georgetown, Villanova, etc.). There are few schools that can boast a nationwide profile as strong as a service academy; expect Big East marketing efforts come 2015 to have a very Navy-friendly direction, especially without blue-turfed BCS-buster Boise to draw attention.
5. What’s the last straw? Say the conference’s bad run continues — SDSU and the Texas schools bail, for example, and Connecticut’s long-reported quest for ACC membership comes through. Those realistic possibilities (some more realistic than others) would create a 2015 football conference boasting the Mids, Central Florida, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida, Temple and Tulane. Would membership in that eight-team league — and the minimal TV revenue it would provide — be better than remaining independent? Navy officials are “reviewing all the moving parts” in this mess, but there must be a tipping point; if the league’s problems continue, it could be reached before too long.