To help convince some of the candidates — such as Boise State — that the Big East will be stable in the long run, the conference has a plan in place to double its exit fee to $10 million.
An official in the Big East told The Associated Press that conference leaders are slated to vote Monday on raising that fee, which will clear the way to invite six new members.
Along with Boise State, which would be invited only to play football in the Big East, the league also wants to invite Air Force and Navy as football-only members and Conference USA members Central Florida, SMU and Houston to join in all sports.
The official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the league wasn't announcing its plans publicly, said he is confident the league's members are ready to move forward with the plan.
The Big East has only six football schools committed to the league beyond this season. The conference would like to get to 12 football members and split into two divisions, East and West, and play a championship game.
"Everybody realizes there is a window of opportunity here to get these six teams," the official said Saturday.
Boise State and Air Force, currently in the Mountain West Conference, and Navy, an independent in football, have concerns about the long-term health of a league that has already had three defections during this latest round of conference realignment.
"I don't have any idea right now from just reading accounts in the media of who's going to be in, who's going to be out, there's a great deal of uncertainty out there," Boise State President Bob Kustra told the AP before the Broncos played at Colorado State. "And so if anybody asked me today, if anybody invited me today, I wouldn't know what I was getting invited to. And so the first thing is to nail that down and be more certain."
In a short statement given to the AP on Saturday, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto stressed the conference "has not extended membership invitations to any institutions."
Kustra also told the AP: "We've not been extended an invitation."
Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced last month they will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, though Big East rules require them to stay in the league for the next two seasons and Marinatto has said he will hold the Panthers and Orange to that. It seems unlikely Pitt and Syracuse will be forced to stay if the Big East can get to 12 football members by 2012.
TCU was slated to join the Big East in 2012, but the Horned Frogs reneged on that commitment and accepted an invitation to the Big 12 last week. TCU is free to go immediately because it was never an official member, but the Big East is expecting to collect a $5 million exit fee.
Trying to recruit new members has been tricky for the Big East because its remaining members have not committed to stay in the league.
Louisville and West Virginia are possible targets for the Big 12 if it needs to replace Missouri — which is pondering a move to the Southeastern Conference — or if it decides to expand back to 12 teams.
The agendas of the football members and the ones that don't play football in the conference have often conflicted. But they came together this week to agree on a plan that they hope will allow the Big East retain its automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series, and the millions in revenue that goes with it, for years to come.
Neither the Mountain West Conference nor Conference USA has an automatic BCS bid, which makes the Big East attractive to Boise State despite being nearly 1,900 miles away from Louisville, the closest current Big East member.
"Well, there's no doubt that for a long time the coaches have felt like this distinction between AQ and non-AQ isn't fair," Kustra said. "I've been very vocal about my thoughts regarding the BCS and when they organize in 2013, I hope there's a way to deal with some of these inequities.
"But in the meantime, it seems like our responsibility is to get as close as we can to AQ status. And that's the reason why we're not just shutting down any interests from others who ask us questions about what are your future plans? Our future plans are to do whatever we can to work out a better TV arrangement, get on more TVs in more living rooms and at the same time work toward AQ status."