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What’s next for the Big East if they lose more members?

Nov 18, 2012, 4:19 PM EDT

Mike Aresco Big East commissioner AP

Unless you’ve been away from all forms of technology over the last 24 hours, you’ve heard reports that Maryland is in the process of deciding which conference would be best for the Terps’ future.

Is it the ACC, of which they’ve been a member since its inception in 1953, or the Big Ten, with its lucrative conference television network and a first tier media rights deal that’s due to be renegotiated in the near future (current deal expires in 2017)?

A Maryland move would set off a chain of events that would once again leave the Big East in a tenuous position.

Those reports have Rutgers as the Big Ten’s 14th member should Maryland make the move, not to mention the general thought that the ACC would grab Connecticut to be its 14th all-sports member (not counting Notre Dame here since they will remain a football independent).

The question for Big East commissioner Mike Aresco and the presidents he represents: what course of action will they take should Rutgers and Connecticut leave?

First, this news comes at the worst possible time for the Big East as its in the process of negotiating a new television deal. A big reason why Rutgers would appeal to the Big Ten in this scenario is also why their departure would deliver a major blow to the Big East: television sets.

Feel free to argue about just how many people in the NY/NJ area “care” about Rutgers athletics, but that’s not the point. If the Big Ten can take its network to cable/satellite providers in the area with Rutgers in tow, it becomes easier to convince providers to make the Big Ten Network even more accessible to subscribers.

Losing Rutgers, and by extension Connecticut, puts the Big East in a tenuous position when it comes to those television sets. They’ll need to make additions with football in mind, as the departures would drop the conference to 11 football members (including Navy). So who would they go after? Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports offered up the following:

BYU and Air Force both remain potential additions either for football only or even full membership. Army could be a possibility – Navy is already coming in 2015. A western school such as Nevada, UNLV or Fresno State could be a football-only candidate to balance things geographically.

Or maybe in an effort to replace UConn’s presence in New England, the league goes after the University of Massachusetts or attempts to bolster its basketball by adding Xavier or Virginia Commonwealth or, well, at that point just about anyone and anything and anywhere is on the table.

It was one thing to sell the fact that adding Memphis and Temple will help lessen the blow of losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. But if UConn, which has won three national titles as part of the Big East, were to hit the road the Big East would have to address the basketball side of things with at least one of the spots.

Do they look to the Atlantic 10? You’d almost have to if you’re the Big East, given who remains in Conference USA, and UMass would help as they would bring both basketball and football to the table.

And it would be foolish to expect the remaining schools in the conference (meaning primarily Cincinnati, Louisville and USF) to sit around and merely hope for another league to come calling; those backchannels are likely already being worked. Good luck selling a “stable” conference to prospective members.

Realignment has left the Big East in the position of picking at the leftovers in hopes of putting together a solid menu. But at this point it’s tough to see many attractive choices left on the table.

And if conference commissioners were to fully engage in a race to form those “superconferences” that were rumored to be on the way? The Big East model would most likely end up looking quite similar to what the Atlantic 10 has, and while that’s not “death” you’ll have a hard time convincing fans otherwise.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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