The Big East moved quickly to replace Rutgers and braced for more possible departures, getting Tulane and East Carolina to agree to join the re-invented conference in 2014.
“I would go as far to say as this is a historic day for Tulane University. … The Big East is coming to the Big Easy,” school President Scott Cowen said Tuesday.
Tulane, in New Orleans, and East Carolina, in Greenville, N.C., will make it six Conference USA schools to join the Big East in the last two years.
Rutgers announced a week ago that it would leave the Big East for the Big Ten. Cowen and athletic director Rick Dickson said serious talks with the Big East began about a week ago.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to join a national conference,” Dickson said.
ECU athletic director Terry Holland said an offer to join the Big East came Sunday.
“It was a quick turnaround,” he said.
Rutgers would like to join the Big Ten by 2014, along with Maryland, but the Scarlet Knights have left their departure date from the Big East ambiguous. Conference bylaws require members to give the league notification of two years and three months before departing, but the Big East has negotiated early exits for Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia in the past year.
With Maryland leaving the ACC, there has been strong speculation that Connecticut or Louisville will be the next to leave the Big East as the Terps’ replacement.
If either does, the conference is still on target to have 12 football members in 2014, just not the same ones it will have in 2013 when the new Big East debuts.
“We’re not finished,” Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said. “We obviously have some other plans for expansion.”
The Big East is also on the open market, trying to negotiate a pivotal new television contract. Aresco said that had to be put on hold for a few days as the conference regrouped.
Boise State and San Diego State, currently in the Mountain West, are set to join for football only starting in 2013, anchoring the Big East’s new West Division. Also on schedule to join next season are current C-USA members SMU, Houston, Memphis and Central Florida.
Navy has committed to join the Big East for football in 2015. The conference had planned to find a 14th member to balance out its divisions even before Rutgers left. BYU and Air Force were top targets for that spot.
Tulane seems an odd choice based on the school’s recent performance in football and men’s basketball, the two most prominent sports.
The Green Wave haven’t been to a bowl game since 2002 and last made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 1995. Tulane just completed a 2-10 football season under first-year coach Curtis Johnson.
The Green Wave play their home football games in the Superdome but have struggled to draw fans. Tulane’s average attendance for home games was 18,085 this season.
East Carolina has been a consistent winner in football and looked to get in the Big East for years. The Pirates have played in a bowl five out of the last six years and finished 8-4 this season, just missing out on a trip to the C-USA title game. The Pirates also have an average attendance of more than 47,000 per home game.