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Should the Big East Expand to 12 Schools?

With Illinois lawmakers lobbying for a third state school in the Big Ten, it begs the question: could the Big East benefit from expansion, or should it stray away from repeating past mistakes?

NCAA Expansion has strengthened the cash cow that is college football, making the third most-popular sport in America even more of a money-making machine. But while NCAA football has ascended to newer, more unprecedented heights in recent years, college basketball has been lost in the shuffle, often being overlooked as far as conference realignment goes. The conference that undoubtedly took the biggest hit was the Big East, which saw a major shift in the last decade - from losing major schools like Miami, Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC, to splitting into two separate conferences altogether.

The new Big East offered some great moments on the college basketball landscape this season, but it definitely was not an improvement on the legacy the previous incarnation developed over the past 35 years. Three new teams - Creighton, Butler and Xavier - joined the Catholic 7, and although Creighton and Xavier made some noise by making the NCAA Tournament, the Big East could use some extra firepower in its quest to return to dominance.

Two Illinois state senators - Matt Murphy (R - Palatine) and Michael Connelly (R - Naperville) have introduced a bill that would establish a task force that would study whether the state of Illinois has a second public institution that is worthy of consideration to join Illinois and Northwestern, a private institution, as the third state school in the Big Ten.

This would be huge for the Big Ten, which is already at 12 members, and will expand with 14 with the additions of Maryland and former Big East school Rutgers. But it does beg the question: should the Big East consider adding two or more schools to strengthen its presence in college basketball?

The old Big East made the unfortunate mistake of looking to compete with the other college football powerhouse conferences by adding programs like South Florida, which ended up making the conference look weak from a basketball aspect. But with delicate consideration, expansion could work in the conference's favor. Let's take a look at possible schools that the Big East could target for expansion.

(Note: All schools on this list are currently in the Atlantic-10 Conference. Only private universities that are without a Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision program will be considered for this list. Schools with Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision programs are eligible for this list.)

Saint Louis Billikens

Location: St. Louis, MO
Type: Private, Jesuit (Roman Catholic)
2013-14 record: 27-7

Saint Louis is the logical choice should the Big East decide to expand. The Billikens are coming off an A-10 regular season championship season, finishing with a third-round loss to Louisville in their third-consecutive NCAA Tourney berth. Head coach Jim Crews has done a stupendous job since taking over for the late Rick Majerus in 2012. The addition of Saint Louis also makes sense from a geographical standpoint. They are currently the westernmost member of the A-10, where they would find a middle ground as the lone Missouri school in the Big East. Rivalries could quickly develop with fellow Jesuit programs in Creighton to the west, and DePaul and Marquette to the east, creating some interesting Big East matchups. St. Louis is also the 19th-largest market in the nation, which would appeal to Fox Sports with their new deal still in its infant stages.

Dayton Flyers

Location: Dayton, OH
Type: Private, Roman Catholic
2013-14 record: 25-10

Dayton's case for consideration in the Big East continues to grow with each upset in the NCAA Tournament. After a late victory over in-state foe Ohio State, 11th-seed Dayton escaped Syracuse in Buffalo to advance to the Sweet 16, where they will travel to Memphis to face 10th-seed Stanford. Archie Miller is one of college basketball's hottest new coaches, and induction into the Big East could persuade him to stay in Dayton. Furthermore, Dayton has one of the best fan bases in college sports, and is one of the top-50 all-time most winningest programs in D-1 basketball. Joining the Big East would also rekindle a major rivalry with Xavier, which ended when the Musketeers left the A-10 last year.

Saint Joseph's Hawks

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Type: Private, Jesuit (Roman Catholic)
2013-14 record: 24-10

The A-10 Tournament champs historically may be the most deserving team on this list to enter the Big East. They have competed in nineteen NCAA Tournaments, despite making its first Big Dance in six years this season. It would share a conference with its most bitter rival, Villanova, which would increase their annual rivalry to two games a season. It would have to share the Philly market with the Wildcats, but the Big East does well with multiple programs in the New York Metropolitan area (St. John's and Seton Hall), so it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Richmond Spiders

Location: Richmond, Virginia
Type: Private, Nonsectarian
2013-14 record: 19-14

Richmond has endured some subpar seasons since its last NCAA bid in 2011, but the Spiders have proved they can more than hold their own against bigger opponents. They are the only program in NCAA history to win NCAA Tournament games as a 12, 13, 14, and 15 seed. They are also a phenomenal academic institution, which will generate some interest when looking at the bigger picture for the conference's student-athletes. Richmond isn't a sexy pick to join, but should get some attention if expansion is the next move for the Big East.

VCU Rams

Location: Richmond, Virginia
Type: Public
2013-14 record: 26-9

Yes, we did say that only private universities will be considered for this list, but VCU is too good a program to pass up. The lone public university on this list has taken the NCAA by storm in recent years, thanks to young head coaching guru Shaka Smart. He has refused to depart Richmond in the past, which has served Virginia Commonwealth well, as they have made the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive seasons. There are reports he may be on his way to Marquette to replace Buzz Williams, which would be a huge blow for the Rams. Should he stay, expect VCU to continue being one of the top mid-major programs. If not for a boneheaded play, VCU could have put on the glass slipper for the second time in the Smart Era. They may not have the basketball history that Dayton, Saint Joes or Saint Louis possess, but they are one of the hottest rising programs in college sports, and it would be asinine to disregard their possible entry into the Big East.