Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Killed College Basketball's Super Conference? College Football. A Futurespective

There is nothing I love more in this world than irrational mass panic and rampant speculation. Anything I can do to stir the pot, give me a spoon. So, in the interest of setting thought cogs down completely baseless and irresponsible paths, I’m going to take a stab at one of the most wild, far-reaching and fantastical Big Ten expansion scenarios out there.

The New York Times recently came out with a piece examining the “ripple effects” of possible Big Ten expansion plans.* Unless you haven’t been interwebbing in the past month, you know that the Big Ten Conference is looking to add at least one and maybe more than one member institutions into their fold. But not until after a lengthy, behind the scenes, good old fashion wheeling and dealing session. Imagine a man trying to sell a prize horse, and the buyer saying maybe, but not until you upgrade your horse’s football and basketball facilities and promise a larger television market, say in the New York area. Now, replace the seller with university athletic directors, administrators and presidents and the buyer with the Big Ten and you get the picture.

Some of the names bandied about in the New York Times, and a dozen other places are: Syracuse, Rutgers, Missouri, Pittsburgh and even Nebraska and Texas, believe it or not. None of those names are new to the table. The fun part resides in pondering how much havoc can be wrought on the current college sports’ landscape. There are some other issues at stake, like academic prestige, the Association of American Universities and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, but all that stuff is about research, or something, and as a sports fan I largely don’t care. I assume you don’t either? Good. Moving on.

Let’s commence speculating. Assuming the Big Ten goes with 3 teams, and makes itself the Big XIV, let’s further assume the three teams they take, in no particular order, are Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Rutgers. All three are possibilities; all three are from the Big East. Jamie Dixon went on record as saying he’s against it, which is understandable given his perspective: the men’s basketball coach at Pitt. The Big East is a super-conference in basketball. The Big East counts 40 Final Four appearances and 10 national titles at the moment. With sixteen teams, even if six to eight of them suck in a given year, you can still debate whether or not the Big East is the best basketball conference with the dawn of each new season. It’s a numbers game.

Sadly for Jamie Dixon, the men’s basketball program doesn’t call the shots at athletic departments that aren’t Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky. Football does. And Big Ten football is good business. Big Ten member institutions took home over 20 million in revenue sharing from football last year. The Big East? Not so much. If the Big Ten had the mind to take all three of the aforementioned Big East teams, they’d probably be interested. Very interested.

That sucks for Big East basketball, right? Syracuse is huge in the hoops’ prestige department. As of late, Pitt has been too. Rutgers we’ll toss out as largely irrelevant at the moment (sorry Scarlet Knights). But you would still have UConn, Villanova, Georgetown, Louisville, West Virginia and Notre Dame along with a smattering of other worthy b-ball programs. It’s conceivable to think that the Big East could still be the bad boy on the block. But don’t think they won’t miss Syracuse and Pitt. Especially when the yearly debate of who is the best conference begins and the Big Ten can throw in with Syracuse, Pitt, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois (maybe) and Indiana (someday). Beyond that general annoyance, however, there is still a nagging detail that could derail everything for east coast basketball as we know it. College football still rules all. I hate it as much as the next hoophead, but we all know the truth of it.

As the New York Times points out, if the Big East actually lost Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers that would be a huge hit not just to basketball, but to football as well. At that point, teams like West Virginia, Cincinnati and maybe even UConn might start looking for greener football pastures. Especially if a conference like the ACC decides that if the Big Ten has added three shiny new schools, they might as well top it off at 14 teams too. Imagine a Big East where you have Villanova, Georgetown and…Marquette?

On the other side of the coin, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge would become a monolith. The Pac Ten would have to scramble not to be outdone. Who might they take? Gonzaga? BYU? The SEC, which never cared much about basketball, would probably be relegated to fourth fiddle at best on a permanent basis. Small conferences would collapse. March Madness would see even fewer mid majors. College Basketball would never be the same again.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. At least Jamie Dixon won’t have to lose to the likes of Seton Hall and South Florida anymore. Jamie Dixon, meet Iowa.


1 comment:

  1. Migh I suggest you read this well written post on Bigten expansion. I'd venture a guess it will change a lot of the theory you are discussing above. Specifically, the "think like a sports fan" mentality you describe.