After reports surfaced last night that stop gap invitations could be issued to schools such as Central Florida, East Carolina, and Temple at today's the meeting of Big East presidents, this morning's news comes as a bit of a letdown. According to the AP, Big East presidents and leadership met this morning and instead of issuing invitations to new members in hopes of stabilizing the football side of the conference, they discussed efforts to raise the exit fee. Raising the exit fee would at least signal outwardly that the remaining members are interested in staying, but wouldn't necessarily stop members from accepting invitations to other conferences should they come.
According to Brendan Prunty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the league discussed raising the exit fee and there appeared to be some level of agreement to do it in the near future:
The Big East's current exit fee is $5 million, but with the recent defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference, there has been serious talk of raising it significantly. While no new exit fee number was set on the morning call, there appears to be unanimous support in raising it, so as to prevent further schools from bolting to other conferences.
It makes sense in theory for the members to all agree to an increased exit fee, but don't expect anyone to vote for it until the lingering fate of Missouri and the Big XII is resolved. Depending on the hour, Louisville and West Virginia remain near the top of the Big XII's wish list should Missouri decide to leave the conference and join the SEC. It's also possible that even if Missouri stays, that the league would still take both school to get back to twelve teams and reinstitute a conference championship game, though the consensus at the moment is that the Big XII prefers to stay at ten teams.
Should the Big East lose just one of Louisville or West Virginia, it is difficult to see how it could go forward as a BCS automatic qualifying conference no matter what teams are added. If it loses both, it's difficult to see how the football side of the conference could even continue to exist, being left with just four firm members. There is simply no move the conference can make before Missouri's decision is in that will ensure that the conference will survive. The best case scenario for the Big East as a whole is that Missouri opts to stay in the Big XII and the Big XII opts to stay at ten teams. While it might make West Virginia a more likely target for the SEC, it's not guaranteed, and at that point the Big East might be able to convince members to raise the exit fees and try to forge ahead with the remaining six teams.
Raising the exit fee would have been a smart move...more than a year ago when the conference also voted to add TCU. Now the discussion seems like voting to close the barn door now that all of the horses are out of the barn. Had the Big East had the foresight to raise the exit fee and perhaps even had each member turn over its tier one and tier two rights to the league as a show of solidarity last year, it might have been able to hold on not only to TCU, but to Syracuse and Pittsburgh as well. Sadly, as has been the case for much of its football history, the Big East has been mostly reactive, and for that reason alone, its future remains bleak.