** Steve Pederson said that season ticket sales for this football season are ahead of where they were last year at this time. Last year the school sold 49,000 season tickets - which represented the second highest number in school history (2003 was the highest and it was a complete sell-out of season tickets). Pederson said "We've consistently been ahead of last year's pace and that was the second best season we've had so we think we a good push in August we can sell out the season again. I know this, we won't rest until we sell every ticket, that is our goal." I will say this - the guy, who is a lightning rod, I know, has extremely high expectations for this program and even if you don't always agree with his methods, you have to at least like the fact that he won't settle for second best.
** Pederson also said that the addition of TCU will be a huge boost to the league for a number of reasons, but it should also help the non-conference scheduling efforts because it balances the conference schedule of every team. He said now that Pitt can count on on four home games and four away games from the Big East every year the schedule should fall into place. "We'd like to have two BCS-level opponents every year and seven home games every year," Pederson said. It is clear in talking to him that the days of playing on the road against MAC opponents are probably over (see next item). It is clear he wants to play three home and one road non-conference games every year. "It was getting really hard to find that fifth non-conference opponent because so many teams were looking for games every year," Pederson said.
** One series that you can count on for the long term is the Notre Dame series. The current deal is like a 12-year deal but Pederson said he's had many discussions with Notre Dame and both sides want the series to continue "for a long, long time," he said. He anticipates the two schools signing another long term deal to play home-and-home when the current deal is closer to the end. "Both schools respect each other, we share many of the same values, we have great traditions of playing against each other, it is always a quality game - both sides agree it needs to continue," Pederson said. That means every other year the away non-conference game will be in South Bend, errr, Notre Dame, Indiana, and so when they sign a home-and-home with a BCS-caliber school (like the Penn State series) it will be opposite years. So that could squeeze the road trips to places like Athens, Ohio, out of the picture.
** Pederson, along with all of the officials in Newport, wouldn't comment specifically on any individual school when the subject of expansion came up but he did offer some good clues as to what he, and the league, is thinking. For instance, when I asked him about Central Florida, he responded simply that there is definitely a belief among many within the league, including him, that there needs to be another presence for the league in Florida. I'm guessing that the discussions are not about Florida International and Florida Atlantic, so it is pretty clear that Central Florida is indeed a team that is on the radar but like I wrote a few days ago - there is a clear divide among those within the league about what exactly Central Florida would add. I asked him about why the group led by him and Oliver Luck shot down Villanova and he simply said "I'm not going to comment on an individual school, but when we add someone, it has to be someone that you believe can have a great impact on your conference overall, would be the best choice. And obviously if you can find established programs, with long-term history and fans are excited to see them. That's a part of it, we have to add teams that we are excited to see."
So with that as our backdrop let's take these three questions --- "What do they add? Would fans be excited to see them? Do they make the conference better in any relevant way?" --- and see if we can figure out which teams are actually on the radar and which are just not likely to happen.
Villanova - Adds very little, if any, value to the league. Does bring a school into the Philadelphia market but the league is already in that market and this school doesn't exactly carry that market. And I'm assuming Villanova coming to town would not exactly drive fans to the box office to buy tickets. So based on what we know the league is looking for, the idea of Villanova is probably on the extreme back burner for now.
Southern Mississippi - Delivers no television market. Delivers no brand name or history. Does not make the league better in any relevant way. Not sure why this school ever comes up.
East Carolina - See Southern Mississippi.
Marshall - See East Carolina and Southern Mississippi.
Memphis - Questions about the commitment to academic excellence, a history of being dogged by the NCAA, facilities in need of a large upgrade make this school unattractive to just about everyone I've talked to about this subject. Memphis would have to do a lot of work to even get on the radar and even then, there are a number of people who just aren't sold on this program.
Army and Navy - They are brand names who people will watch on television and Navy has done a good job of putting together a highly successful program. They fit academically and they do have some degree of a national following - but like I wrote two days ago, Army isn't crazy about the idea of joining the conference. I do think if Navy was the 12th team it would make the conference better and so this team will likely continue to have its name bounced around. I still think it is a long shot for either but Navy seems more realistic than some of the other teams always mentioned.
Maryland - Obviously fits all the criteria but the Big East would have to make a Don Corleone-like offer (one Maryland couldn't refuse) in order to make it happen. Probably a long, long shot but it is the kind of team the conference is targeting and there is at least some thought that it isn't as married to the ACC as it may seem.
Boston College - As long as the two guys - the president and athletic director - responsible for taking this program out of the Big East are still in charge, this will not happen. Neither guy would agree to it as that would be an admission that they made a mistake in leaving in the first place. But the Big East would love to have them back and the feeling is if the leadership changes, the school may be back on the market - particularly if the Big East can offer a better financial package than they currently get from the ACC.
Houston - Probably the dark horse in all of this because nobody seems to talk about Houston as a viable candidate for the Big East. But here is the thing - this school is clearly on the radar and there are a number of people within the conference who believe it could indeed add something of value - the Houston market. There is also the belief that, much like Central Florida adding a second Florida team to the league is valuable, that TCU has opened the door to Texas and a second presence in the state - especially one in a good television market and large city - would be a boost. The program also at least has some history and has been, at times, pretty good so keep an eye on Houston because it seems to be a team that fits the profile of what the league is looking to add.
Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State - These three are together because they'd probably be a package deal and they would only become available if the Big 12 fractures because of the Texas Longhorn Network. If that league does fall apart - there is talk that Texas A&M and Oklahoma could be looking elsewhere, this trio would obviously be very attractive to the Big East for a lot of reasons. Again, this is a pipe dream in some ways but these three schools are three that the Big East is clearly keeping their eyes fixed on.
Again, right now there are so many models being discussed that to try and guess what is going to happen would be foolish. But if you really want to make it easier to figure out if a team is a viable candidate or not - just ask yourself the Steve Pederson questions (What do they add? Would fans be excited to see them? Do they make the conference better in any relevant way?") about the school. And if you are realistic in your answer to those questions about any school, you will probably be able to figure out if the school is worth considering or not.