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22-team Mtn/C-USA merger is a reality, but Big East still poised to pilfer best of the non-BCS

Conference expansion is revving up again and there could be definitive movement before the day is done.

Conference USA and the Mountain West have jointly announced a new "Football Association" that brings both conferences together under one umbrella. But even though both conferences say their entire membership — 22 total members — will be joining the association, it's unclear whether that will actually be the case come next week.

22-team Mtn/C-USA merger is a reality, but Big East still poised to pilfer best of the non-BCSAccording to CBSSports.com and the Associated Press, the Big East is set to invite Boise State, Air Force, Central Florida and Navy as part of its expansion plan, pushing membership in football to ten schools. The conference is also considering invites for Houston, SMU and Temple. Boise State, Air Force and Navy would all be football-only members while Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Temple (if Villanova approves its entrance) would be a member in all sports.

None of the aforementioned schools have confirmed whether they are going or staying with their current conferences, CBSSports.com is quoting a source saying that Boise State and Air Force are a done deal.

The Big East has been flirting with extinction for the past month after Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they were leaving the conference for the ACC and TCU backed out of its agreement to join the conference in 2012 for an invitation to the Big 12. Rutgers and Connecticut also were rumored to be looking for another home amid all of the reshuffling.

The addition Boise State, Air Force, Navy and Central Florida would definitely give the Big East a football boost, but it would also do away with the conference's East Coast identity.

According to CSBSports.com, UCF, Boise State and Air Force have been receptive to the Big East's overtures, but Navy wants the conference to raise its exit fee to $10 million before it will be persuaded to give up its independence. Invitations for all of the schools probably won't come until next week, which makes the timing of the Mountain West-Conference USA press conference all the more interesting.

22-team Mtn/C-USA merger is a reality, but Big East still poised to pilfer best of the non-BCSInitially, the conferences were discussing a partnership in hopes that their forces combined wold warrant an automatic berth to a BCS bowl. However, if the Mountain West loses two of its top schools and Conference USA loses three schools, then the merger is more about self-preservation. The Mountain West, which already loses TCU after this season, was going into 2012 with 10 teams after the addition of Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii from the WAC. The loss of Boise State and Air Force would leave it with eight schools — were it is right now — and with a conference that eerily resembles the WAC sans a powerhouse team.

Similarly, Conference USA stands to lose the three most attractive teams in its league, so a merger that would include the addition of Hawaii, Fresno State, Nevada and San Diego State might be enough to soften the blow.

Then there's the issue of travel. Both the Big East and the new Mountain West/C-USA leagues will face travel schedules that will no doubt take their toll on its members, especially Boise State and Air Force, who will be traveling back and forth to the East Coast at least three times a year.

Ultimately, the goal for the Big East is to maintain its BCS automatic qualifying status and adding those schools — especially Boise State — will do that. However, just as when Utah left for the Pac-12, BYU left for independence and TCU announced its venture into the Big East last year, the Mountain West could have its dream of BCS equality taken from it again.

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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.

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