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Departure of TCU leaves dark future for Big East, USF

So long, Texas Christian University. You were gone before we even got to know you. Your departure leaves our conference, once again, picking up the pieces.

The long-term future of the Big East hit another speed bump Monday night, when it was announced that the Board of Trustees at TCU unanimously voted to abandon the conference and accept an invitation to the similarly weakened Big 12. The Horned Frogs were scheduled to begin competition in the Big East next year, but will instead join the Big 12.

TCU becomes the third member to leave the conference in the last two months, following Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which have been accepted into the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It’s unclear when exactly Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be allowed to begin play in the ACC, but it is clear that the conference is now down to six football-playing members in USF, Cincinnati, Louisville, West Virginia, Rutgers and Connecticut, below the NCAA minimum of eight.

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst has been open about her desire to move UConn to the ACC, while Rutgers is rumored to be interested in the same move. If Missouri decides to follow Texas A&M and abandon the Big 12 in favor of the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12 will need to make further expansion moves, with both Louisville and West Virginia on the horizons, according to a report in Tuesday’s New York Times.

For the Big East to survive, it will also have to expand. The top candidates for invitations all come from smaller conferences, including the Air Force Academy from the Mountain West, Temple from the Mid-American Conference, Central Florida and East Carolina from Conference USA and Navy, currently a college football independent.

The future of USF Athletics is delicately poised. It seems that the options are to stick with the Big East as it expands through subtraction by addition, or try to jump to a new conference.

The nearest geographic fits would be the ACC or SEC, though an invitation to either conference is unlikely, as both have representation in the state with Florida State, Miami (both ACC) and Florida (SEC).

As painful as it may be for USF fans to hear, UCF joining the conference would probably be a positive move for the Big East. Even though both the football and men’s basketball programs are currently under investigation by the NCAA, the Knights have a generally respectable athletic tradition and are ready to step into an Automatic Qualifying Conference.

Air Force, Navy and Temple are underwhelming additions, but if that’s what it takes for the Big East to survive, the Big East should invite them.

As of now, it appears that the current days of being the weakest conference to receive a bid to the Bowl Championship Series will one day be remembered as “the glory days.”