Late last week, we got the news that the Big East is officially going to break up. The seven schools that aren't football members will all leave the league and go off to form their own new conference. It's probably for the best, as there's never been a wider gulf between schools serious about football and schools that aren't.
The breakup is the end of an era for the Big East, but it's also an opening to get creative. One idea I think the conference should consider is resurrecting the idea of a multi-conference merger.
It was about 10 months ago that Conference USA and the Mountain West announced that they were planning to dissolve themselves and combine them into a single megaconference of 18-24 schools. It ended up being too complex for them to pull off in a short timeframe, so they cancelled the idea. Given more time, it could make sense for the remaining Big East and Mountain West.
At this point, the Big East minus the seven departing Catholic schools is basically the 2004 version of Conference USA plus Temple and a couple of MWC schools. The 13-team Big East could merge with the nine-team Mountain West and form the nation-spanning league the Big East talks so frequently about with 22 of the best mid-major programs. It could get to a nice, round 24 with the addition of, say, Southern Miss in the east and BYU in the west (as the playoff structure is really bad for non-Notre Dame independents). The teams could have seven or games a year from within their halves, two or three more with the other half, and then two more games to either host as fundraisers by lining up I-AA teams or go away as fundraisers as guarantee opponents for the big conferences.
Chuck Neinas said that a 16-team conference with two eight-team divisions is not really a conference but rather two with a scheduling agreement. To whatever extent that's true, it's even more so for a 24-team conference with two distinct halves like this thing would have. However, putting the two best mid-major conferences together would allow them to share resources, ensure consistent scheduling, and bargain from a stronger position with TV networks. It could provide a refuge from the ever more frequent existential crises that conference realignment creates for leagues. It also would cut down on high nationwide travel costs, which are one of the factors that led the basketball schools to break off from the Big East.
The Big East could never consider something like this with those seven schools attached. That's not going to be a problem anymore. I have no idea if it would work. There's always a possibility that it could get hit by the best schools defecting all at once, like what happened when the MWC itself was born by schools leaving the 16-team WAC. However, there might be enough strength in numbers to keep the thing together. It's an, "any port in a storm" kind of move, but it just might be crazy enough to work.