MORGANTOWN - The presidents of the Big East's 14 member schools, including West Virginia and Louisville, voted unanimously Monday night to raise the exit fee for anyone wishing to leave the league from $5 million to $10 million.The vote apparently comes with a stipulation, though. Before it goes into effect, at least one of the country's three major service academies, either Navy or Air Force, has to agree to join the league.Meeting via a conference call, the league's presidents voted to double the exit fee in order to send a signal to potential new members that the conference is stable and that its members - particularly the six remaining FBS-level football programs - are committed to staying together.The conference is apparently ready to extend invitations to six schools. Navy and Air Force would be asked to join as football-only members, along with Boise State. Central Florida, Houston and SMU would be invited as full members.The thinking behind making the higher exit fee contingent upon a commitment from Navy or Air Force - and preferably both - is that commitments from those two schools would further stabilize the league. That could then help persuade Boise State to join, and the Broncos are crucial to helping the Big East keep its automatic-qualifying status in the BCS.Central Florida already appears more than willing to join the league, while Houston and SMU would likely agree, too, if the service academies and Boise State are on board.There is no timetable for extending those invitations, but most observers believe it will be soon. Big East commissioner John Marinatto has scheduled a conference call with the media for this afternoon to discuss the league's realignment issues.There had been speculation that at least one school, Louisville, would not participate in the call. The Cardinals are believed to be a candidate for inclusion should the Big 12 expand to 12 members or need to replace Missouri in order to remain at 10. West Virginia has also been mentioned in those discussions, but both schools participated in the call and voted for the proposal to double the exit fee.
Still, the higher exit fee may not save the conference.On Monday night, the New York Times reported that sources at Missouri are indicating that the school's decision to apply for membership in the SEC is "inevitable and imminent.'' If that's the case, the Big 12 will eventually have to move to replace the Tigers, although interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas is on record as saying he believes Missouri will be a part of the Big 12 in 2012 regardless of any decision to leave and so expansion decisions do not need to be immediate.If Missouri does leave the Big 12, the conference would then have to decide whether to simply replace the Tigers and stay at 10 members or use the opportunity to expand to 12, which would enable the league to re-establish its football championship game.If the Big 12 follows the latter course, both Louisville and West Virginia could be targets, along with BYU and perhaps Cincinnati instead of one of the other three.In order to pass, the exit fee proposal needed to garner votes from 11 of the 14 member schools. That number did not include Pitt and Syracuse, which have announced plans to leave the Big East for the ACC.The increased exit fee apparently would apply only to the league's FBS football-playing members - WVU, Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville, as well as any new members who join. The Big East's eight members who do not play FBS-level football would still be subject to a $5 million exit fee. Those schools are Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul, Villanova and Notre Dame.The Big East's current by-laws call for a $5 million exit fee and a 27-month waiting period before schools can leave the conference. The 27-month waiting period was not an issue on the table in Monday night's vote.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org