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Navy to join Big East for football starting in 2015

The courtship between the Big East and the Navy football program was made public last fall, but league and academy officials said Tuesday that the mutual wooing went on for the better part of a decade.

Neither Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk nor Big East commissioner John Marinatto could pinpoint the day it began, but the courtship officially has become a marriage that will be consummated when the Midshipmen begin league play for football only in 2015.

"We feel really strongly that it's clear to us the future of college football is in a conference," Gladchuk said during a joint teleconference. "There's strength in numbers, there's strength in the market, strength in branding, strength in resources a conference can bring to the table."

Said Marinatto, "We always believed this was a perfect union."

Navy becomes the sixth program to join the league in recent months. Boise State and San Diego State also were added for football only, beginning in 2013, with Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist joining the same year for football and basketball.

It will make the first time in the program's history that Navy will not be an independent in football.

Gladchuk said that the Big East's willingness to allow Navy to continue its traditional rivalries with Army, Air Force and Notre Dame paved the way for the move to be made.

The Army game will continue to be played as Navy's last game regardless if the Midshipmen wind up in a league championship game, Gladchuk said. Navy's contract with CBS to televise the game against Army as well as its home games against Notre Dame go through 2018.

Marinatto said that the league, which will have 11 teams for football once Syracuse, Pittsburgh and, most likely, West Virginia leave, is "not done" when it comes to expansion. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are scheduled to join the Atlantic Coast Conference as late as 2014 while West Virginia has sued the Big East in order to get out of the league and join the Big 12 later this year, well before the 27-month window that was set last fall.

The Big East has doubled its exit fee to $10 million.

Air Force, a member of the Mountain West, has been mentioned as a possible Big East member as well, but Marinatto said "there are a lot of scenarios on the table."

The move to announce Navy as the Big East's newest member was delayed as Gladchuk worked his way through a series of game and television contracts, as well as bowl affiliations. Gladchuk said that the Big East will allow Navy to uphold its CBS Sports Network deal through 2018, as well as its bowl tie-ins through 2016. The Big East currently has a television contract with ESPN.

Gladchuk said that Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and his staff now have three years "to gear it up" before joining the Big East, and said that plans are in the works to expand Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as well as the team's facilities.

Niumatalolo, who in 2012 will be coming off his first losing season (5-7) in four years as Navy's head coach and Navy's first in nine years, compared the fluid landscape of college football to a pending storm and the Midshipmen to a family needing shelter from the chaos.

"We have a definite challenge ahead of us," Niumatalolo said. "I feel like there's a drift happening between the haves and have nots (of major college football) and I want to be with the haves. Are we biting off more than we can chew? I don't know, but our guys are excited about it."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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