Since Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, conference realignment has been something very real to college sports fans. The driving force has always been football. It is the revenue monster that makes athletic departments run and realignment is always done with football in mind first and consideration with everything else second.
Now the shoe is on the other foot as the Big East faces a majority of voting members that are non-footbal and thus non-FBS schools. They may have the power to disband the league and take the name with them as they look to start their own basketball super-conference.
A report surfaced Monday at AJerseyGuy.com that the Catholic (or basketball-only) schools in the Big East had gotten together to express concern with the direction the league is headed. Yearly games with Tulane and Central Florida make them nervous for RPI reasons.
The logical thing is for the A-10 to absorb these schools if they leave the Big East. Regionally it all fits. It would make the A-10 a 22-team conference with the addition of the Catholic Seven. That would give the A-10 too many teams, but it would be manageable given attrition or if a couple of schools left to join the ACC in basketball, which isn’t completely out of question.
With all of that being said, if the Big East were to dissolve and return to their roots and become a basketball-only conference again, what teams would make sense to gel with the teams that are in? Because it’s basketball, geography matters more because the revenue isn’t there to justify traveling across country without football to subsidize the expense.
Marquette and DePaul are the only schools not in the Atlantic Region, as they are in the basketball-rich Midwest. It makes sense to look for schools that bridge the gap and not only make travel distances realistic, but also offer natural rivalries and a presence in urban areas for recruiting and television purposes.
There are obvious additions that the Big East would like to pull from other conferences. From the Atlantic 10 Xavier and Butler make sense. That gives the conference exposure and a presence in Indianapolis and Cincinnati which meet the main requirements.
From the Missouri Valley, Creighton is a team that regularly makes appearances in the Top 25 and would fit in well in the Big East.
Another seemingly obvious choice is Virginia Commonwealth. Shaka Smart has established himself and a program in Richmond, and they are THE program in Richmond now.
Adding Xavier, Butler, VCU and Creighton gives the New Order Big East 11 teams.
To even things out, 16 is a good number. Two eight team divisions that are basketball schools with serious basketball focus is what the conference needs. There are several good candidates with several schools ready to go from mid-major to major.
The first of the next five is Davidson. The school that gave us Stephen Curry is a team that everyone knows and they seem to always be in the big dance. Instead of a school that had one good recruiting class that carried them for four years and then disappearing, they have found a way to sustain. They bring a great TV market in the Charlotte area (America’s fastest growing city) and they bring in great recruiting grounds in North Carolina. They would be four hours from their closest rival in VCU, which is not necessarily ideal, but isn’t unrealistic. Getting an audience just off of Tobacco Road would be a good lift for the New Big East.
Next up, Northern Iowa makes sense. They probably aren’t going to win it all, but neither is Seton Hall. Northern Iowa is always competitive and has won 20 games seven times since the ’03-04 season including a couple of runs in March Madness. Geographically they fit in as a little brother to Marquette and DePaul, being close enough to Chicago and Milwaukee to garner interest.
George Mason makes sense next in the Washington DC market. Like NIU, they have multiple 20-game seasons in the last decade and a couple of tournament runs, including one final four. This not only gives Georgetown a cross-town opponent but also gives the new conference stronger ties to the ever-rich Washington, DC recruiting grounds.
The final two would have to come from the Atlantic 10.
Richmond and St Louis make the most sense, but there are others that could work.
Richmond has proven they can consistently compete and they would be a league rival for VCU and make sense geographically.
St. Louis would add one more TV market to the league, expand further south into the Midwest and round out the Western division of the league.
West: Creighton, Northern Iowa, Marquette, DePaul, St. Louis, Butler, Xavier, Davidson
East: VCU, Richmond, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Georgetown, George Mason, Villanova and Providence.
This would be a conference that combines powerhouses with many of our favorite mid majors which would make a basketball super conference, even if it took a couple of years for some of the lesser teams to improve recruiting enough to compete.
While we can see the benefits from a fan and logical standpoint of a New Big East the reality is that football still is in the drivers’ seat. There is no doubt there is unrest in the Big East, but the likely-hood of the Catholic Seven walking away from a million and a half dollars per year would be a big leap of faith, one they aren’t likely to take unless things get worse than they already are.