Consider: A 16-team football conference with all three service academies in one of its eight-team divisions. Academy rivalries utilized to promote the national identity of a league stretching from Connecticut to California. Academy athletic facilities pumped up by multimillion-dollar television deals. Army Black Knights on blue turf in Boise. Air Force Falcons walking in Memphis. Navy Midshipmen … well, they’re already on board. But you get the idea.
ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy reported earlier this week that the Big East Conference has a three-team expansion wish list — Air Force, BYU and Army. The first two schools would be candidates if the conference stops at 14 football members; it’ll have 13 when Navy joins in three years. Army’s in the mix for what McMurphy called the conference’s “best-case scenario” during an interview with KSL Newsradio — a three-team expansion.
The ESPN report also offered potential division alignments for a 14-team Big East, with Navy playing alongside Connecticut, Louisville, Memphis, San Diego State, South Florida and Southern Methodist. Each team would play all of its division-mates, two random clubs from the other division and a ninth conference game against the same nondivisional opponent each year; Navy would face Temple, for example.
That structure falls apart if Air Force joins and disintegrates entirely under a 16-team plan. Army, Air Force and Navy would all need to be in the same division to ensure yearly meetings; a new alignment under those conditions is anybody’s guess.
It’s a grand plan that would be made possible by TV money — the Big East is negotiating a new deal with ESPN now and can open up talks with other networks later this year. Even the low end of expectations would offer Army and Air Force millions more per year than their current TV allotments; the pot might need to be sweetened for BYU, which has its own cable network and an existing deal with ESPN.
All three expansion targets have been approached unsuccessfully by the Big East before. This time, the TV exposure and a chance for a solid academy league presence — opening up nonleague spots for other teams, instead of using them on rivals — could change some minds. In the radio interview linked above, McMurphy said a deal could come as early as the end of the year, but more likely would come in the summer, depending on when the television deal goes down.
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