Sources: Big 12, Big East talk potential merger

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Big East and Big 12 conference and school officials have been exploring ways to merge their embattled leagues, but talks have centered on an arrangement in which what’s left of the Big East schools would blend into the Big 12, and not vice-versa, multiple Big 12 sources told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz.

The sources said that if Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State were to leave the Big 12 and the five remaining schools do not have an opportunity to join the ACC, SEC or Big Ten, the Big 12 would move to absorb remaining Big East schools — not the other way around.

Boards of regents from Oklahoma and Texas voted Monday to give their presidents the right to choose a new conference, though Texas’ regents still held the right to give a final approval.

If the Big 12 loses those four members, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State would be left to scramble for a future conference home.

One Big 12 source said the reason it would absorb the Big East is the conference’s ability to secure a television deal, currently with Fox, and three more years with ESPN/ABC — although a new configuration could open it up to a new arrangement.

But the Big 12’s BCS bid won’t be a lock under a new configuration.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto told The New York Times that it would hold Pitt and Syracuse, who have announced they will be leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, to the bylaw of a 27-month departure. But if other schools are gone from the Big 12 sooner, then it will have to act quickly to grab the remaining football playing schools in the Big East.

Big East athletic directors and presidents of the surviving football-member schools — Louisville, West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati, Rutgers and Connecticut — are scheduled to meet Tuesday night in New York, a conference source confirmed for ESPN.com. The meeting will not include Pitt and Syracuse.

“It’s a chance to look each other in the eye and get a feel for who’s in and who’s out,” the Big East source said.

The most likely Big East candidates to be scooped up by remaining Big 12 schools are Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida and TCU, with the prospect that UConn and Rutgers may not be available if each school can land in the ACC.

West Virginia would obviously be high on the list and the first one to be invited in any kind of merger if the Mountaineers don’t wind up in the SEC.

Without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East still has six football members, Cincinnati, UConn, South Florida, Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia. Plus TCU is slated to join in 2012, giving the Big East a presence in Big 12 country.

What we have are little fiefdoms who have conference names and we’re living in a society where it’s almost like it’s Wall Street. Greed is good and I’m Gordon Gecko.

— Ex-Big East commish Mike Tranghese
on the free-for-all world of college realignment.

Also talking about a merger is the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA.

Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesman that he and CUSA commissioner Britton Banowsky “resurrected this consolidation concept with Conference USA from a football-only standpoint.”

A union between those schools could create one BCS automatic qualifying league, but there’s no guarantee some of those schools won’t also look elsewhere.

The Southeastern Conference has voted to accept Texas A&M as its 13th member, and speculation has Missouri and West Virginia as candidates to become No. 14.

The ACC might not be done adding Big East teams. The conference reached 14 members with the recent additions, and UConn and Rutgers would allow it to continue to expand its presence in the Northeast.

“I think UConn will be in the ACC, if I had to guess,” Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim said during a speech at the Monday Morning Quarterback Club in Birmingham, according to The Birmingham News. “I think Rutgers could be.”

The Big East also has seven non-football members in St. John’s, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall, DePaul, Villanova and Georgetown, and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish compete in the Big East in all sports but football.

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“I think college football has just taken control of everything,” former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said in an interview with “Outside the Lines” host Bob Ley. “All these moves are about football and money and greed. And I think, you know, I’m embarrassed … about the whole thing. And not just because it’s affected the Big East. It just seems that things such as integrity and loyalty and congeniality are gone. And our problem is quite simple. We have no one in charge.

“What we have are little fiefdoms who have conference names and we’re living in a society where it’s almost like it’s Wall Street. Greed is good and I’m Gordon Gecko,” he added.

According to a source close to Notre Dame, the Irish’s first choice is to remain as an independent in football and stay in the Big East in all other sports.

If the Irish decide they can’t remain as a football independent then the choice would be to pursue the ACC before the Big Ten.

But the latter is not the ideal scenario for the fiercely independent Irish. The Irish don’t want to give up independence unless forced.

Managing the agendas of the football and non-football schools has been an issue for Big East Commissioner John Marinatto, who is in his third year leading the conference.

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe managed to keep the Big 12 together last year when Texas was considering a move to the then-Pac-10 that would have included Texas Tech and the two Oklahoma schools.

However, that might have only been a temporary reprieve for the league.

Information from ESPN.com senior basketball writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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