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March 2, 2012

Will Big East expansion change recruiting?

When Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips quarterback Nick Patti enrolled at Boise State in January, he became the only East Coast recruit to sign with the Broncos in the last three years.

In the near future, his situation may not seem so unusual.

Big East expansion soon will make Patti's hometown school of UCF a conference rival of Boise State, even though the two schools are more than 2,500 miles away from each other.

UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU will start competing in the Big East in all sports for the 2013-14 school year, while Boise State and San Diego State will join the league as football-only members in the fall of 2013. Navy will come aboard for football only in the fall of 2015.

The Big East's title is about to become a misnomer, as the conference will have schools from coast to coast. And it could cause major recruiting ramifications for all the schools involved.

"Do I think the Big East opportunity gives us a better chance of getting guys in areas like that?" Boise State recruiting coordinator Keith Bhonapha asked. "I do think so because they will see us. We will travel out there. Those are the types of things that happen as you expand your footprint in college football.''

The new Big East members likely won't change their recruiting bases.

Boise State will continue focusing on California and the rest of the West Coast.

A look at the last five classes for each school reveals that San Diego State (85.7 percent), Houston (84.3), SMU (65.2) and UCF (53.8) all relied on in-state prospects for the majority of their recruits. A move to the Big East probably won't change those percentages much.

"We did a study two years ago nationally," Houston coach Tony Levine said. "There were 112 players in the greater Houston area who signed a scholarship with a Division I program. It makes no sense, with the kind of athletes in the greater Houston area and in the state of Texas, for us to get on airplanes to recruit. We're not all of a sudden going to Florida because we're playing South Florida and Central Florida or [going to] New York and New Jersey because we're playing UConn and Rutgers.''

But it could at least cause these schools to try grabbing the occasional recruit from outside their bases. For example, Boise State has signed a total of six East Coast players over its last nine recruiting classes, the most notable example being eventual first-round draft pick Kyle Wilson of Piscataway (N.J.) High in 2005. Membership in the Big East could allow the Broncos to get a few more players from east of the Mississippi River.

Playing in a conference that includes two Texas schools also might cause Boise State and San Diego State to pay more attention to the Lone Star State.

Boise State didn't have a Texas school as a conference rival until last year, when the Broncos and Big 12-bound TCU were both in the Mountain West. Yet Boise State still has 16 Texas players on its 2012 roster. That total might increase in the near future.

Daniel Kottman, a two-star 2012 defensive tackle from Denton (Texas) Guyer, was the only Texas player to sign with San Diego State last month. San Diego State had long played in the same conference as TCU, but having two league rivals from the Lone Star State may allow the Aztecs to have more of a presence there.

"I think them coming into the Big East coming up soon is going to be a really good asset," said Kottman, who actually committed to San Diego State before the school announced its move to the Big East. "They'll be able to use that for recruiting and be able to get much more players here in the midsection of the United States."

BIG EAST'S MAKEOVER
The Big East is undergoing a radical transformation that could have a dramatic impact on the school's football-playing members. Here's a look at which schools are joining the league and which are leaving. (Boise State. Navy and San Diego State are joining for football only.)
ON THE WAY IN
SchoolCurrent LeagueArrival Date
Boise StateMountain West 2013
UCFC-USA2013
HoustonC-USA2013
MemphisC-USA2013
Navy Independent2015
San Diego StateMountain West2013
SMUC-USA2013
ON THE WAY OUT
SchoolLeaving forExit Date
PittsburghACC2014*
SyracuseACC2014*
West VirginiaBig 122012
* - Contractual obligations currently prevent Pittsburgh and Syracuse from leaving the Big East until 2014. CBSSports.com reported last month that the two schools probably will try negotiating to make the switch in 2013.
Expansion also will open up the states of Texas and California to the Big East's existing football members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and USF. The league also includes Pittsburgh and Syracuse for the moment, but both schools are heading to the ACC by 2014. Defending Big East champion West Virginia will join the Big 12 this fall.

"We'll explore all our options," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. "It creates more options for you because more individuals on the West Coast are going to be exposed to Cincinnati just because of the value of adding a San Diego State, a Boise State."

Cincinnati already had added four California players over its last two signing classes, but the Bearcats currently don't have a single Texas player on their roster. That might change.

This represents another case in which schools likely won't change their recruiting bases. The existing Big East members might try to get the occasional player from California or Texas that they might not have pursued beforehand. But they probably won't make dramatic changes to their recruiting strategies.

Louisville coach Charlie Strong has succeeded on the recruiting trail so far by depending heavily on the state of Florida. The former Florida assistant has signed 23 players from the Sunshine State over the last two years. He won't alter that plan just because he suddenly has more access to Texas and California.

"We're never going to lose our foothold," Louisville recruiting coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "We have a great presence in Florida. If it's not broke, don't fix it. We're not going to branch away from that. But we will try to find a way to reach out to Houston or Dallas. If we go out to California, I don't know. That might be a little too far. Just like I don't think a school like San Diego State is going to make it a big priority to start going east of the Mississippi to get players.

"We'll recruit Texas. It's a talent-rich area. It would be wise for us to do so. We need to make sure we do our due diligence in Florida also."

While the existing Big East members are gaining access to the talent-laden states of California and Texas, Boise State and San Diego State should garner more television exposure. Both schools are selling that increased visibility as a way to make up for the fact that they'll often be playing thousands of miles from campus, making it much less convenient for parents to attend road games.

And, of course, finally playing in a conference with an automatic BCS bid has obvious recruiting benefits. But how much longer will the Big East champion continue to earn an automatic invitation to a BCS game?

The pending departures of West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh further decimate a conference that already has received plenty of criticism for its AQ status. Those three schools arguably had the richest football traditions in the Big East, though only West Virginia has lived up to its reputation lately.

In fact, Hurt believes the arrival of Boise State will more than counteract the departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the eyes of most recruits. After all, today's high school seniors were in elementary school the last time Pitt or Syracuse played in a BCS game.

"I don't worry about appeasing 40- or 50-year-olds who remember Syracuse as a good program," Hurtt said. "I'm worried about making an impression on the 17- or 18-year-old kid. Right now, they're going to remember more about Boise State than Syracuse. That's not a knock on Syracuse, but it is what it is."

But it's a bunch of 40- or 50- or 60-year-olds who ultimately will decide whether the Big East should remain an AQ conference. There also has been talk that AQs eventually could be scrapped entirely. If the Big East champion isn't guaranteed a BCS berth, the league won't seem nearly as attractive to most top recruits.

The league's new members understand that. They already know what it's like to recruit at a school that isn't in an AQ conference. Even an AQ also-ran with little chance of reaching any bowl - let alone a BCS game - can offer that possibility to prospects. The lure often is irresistible.

"I can vividly remember in 2008 sitting in a young man's home, and he said he was going to choose a school in a 'Big Six' BCS conference simply because of the fact they would have a chance to play in a BCS bowl game," Levine said. "I didn't say this, but I wanted to say that school you're going to has no chance of playing in a BCS bowl game."

At least for now, Levine can look forward to offering recruits the possibility of an automatic BCS bid.

How long he will have that opportunity remains uncertain.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

(David Fox contributed to this report).



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