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Reincarnating the Big East

Last week, Notre Dame announced its decision to leave the Big East and join the ACC in all sports but football. And with that announcement, college sports Nostradamuses are again making predictions on an impending apocalypse for the Big East.

Add me to the list. It’ll be a slow death, to be sure. But despite the addition of a wide assortment of schools from Memphis and Temple to SMU and Boise State—or perhaps because of it—the Big East seems less Big-East-like by the day. And it continues to bleed its most powerful members. With the retirement of Jim Calhoun, it’s only a matter of time before Connecticut becomes the next Big East team to defect to the ACC. Meanwhile, everyone at Louisville not named Pitino is knocking on the Big 12’s door with the persistence of a Jehovah’s Witness.

No matter how much you or I might want to deny it, the NCAA is hurtling toward a world where the divide between the football haves and have-nots is downright chasmic.

Instead of waiting for a desperate hour to make their move, the non-FBS power schools in Big East territory should do something drastic: strike out on their own and essentially restart the historic conference from its roots.

Make the focus on basketball, and don’t invite schools that play football above the FCS level (since they’ll probably just abandon you anyway).

How would you assemble such a conference?

There are seven non-FBS schools in the current amalgamation known as the Big East. And we’ll chalk up 14 schools for the Atlantic 10 Conference (add newcomers Butler and VCU, subtract defectors Temple and Charlotte), a geographically synchronous league with no FBS representatives—and where basketball is equally king and played at a consistently high level. Gather the cream from those two conferences and surely you can put together a 14-team league to rival any for hardwood dominance.

Out of that list of 21 schools, there are seven automatics that you must take if you want your conference to succeed: Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Xavier, Butler, St. John’s and Virginia Commonwealth.

The first five are perennial Top-25 and Sweet-16 names. VCU has seen a meteoric rise to national prominence in the last three years under Shaka Smart. And St. John’s is a tradition-steeped member of the original Big East playing on basketball’s biggest stage (New York City/Madison Square Garden) with enough of a recent resurgence under Steve Lavin to make them a gimme.

But after that, selection gets a little tricky. How to sort through the 14 schools that remain? There’s a lot of parity here. Who do you pick to give your conference the most prestige and the greatest chance for success? What factors do you consider?Recent performance? Tradition? Fan base? Location?

I’ve concocted my own system of five categories representing all of these factors to determine which members would make the strongest conference:

CATEGORY 1—RECENT SUCCESS

You want teams that are at least decently competitive right now. I averaged each team’s conference wins over the last five seasons (2008-2012), adding a 1.25 multiplier to Big East members since competition in that league was arguably tougher over that span. Points awarded toward the team’s final grade are listed on the left, with the highest number being most desired.

14            Richmond                        10.2

13            Seton Hall                        7.6 (9.5 after multiplier)

12            St. Louis                        8.8

11            Dayton                        8.6

10            Rhode Island                        8.2

9            Duquesne                        8.0

8            Massachusetts            7.6

7            St. Joseph’s                        7.2

6            La Salle                         7.2

5            Providence                        5.6 (6.7 after multiplier)

4            St. Bonaventure            6.2

3            George Washington            5.8

2            DePaul                        2.2 (2.8 after multiplier)

1            Fordham                        2.2

CATEGORY 2—GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION

Starting with teams largely congregated in the Northeast and Upper Midwest allows the focus here to be on markets. Having teams in larger markets gives you access to more fans, higher TV revenues, better venues for marquee games and an opportunity to recruit larger talent pools, among other things.

Rankings here are generally based on market size, but there are some nuances. For example, Fordham and Seton Hall are both in the New York metro area, but since South Orange is a lot farther from Manhattan, it fell down the ranking accordingly. Geographical redundancy with some other schools already solidly “in” also dropped a few teams down:

14            DePaul (Chicago)

13            Fordham (The Bronx, NY)

12            St. Joseph’s (Philadelphia)

12            La Salle (Philadelphia)

10            George Washington (Washington, DC)

9            St. Louis (MO)

8            Seton Hall (South Orange, NJ)

7            Duquesne (Pittsburgh)

6            Providence (RI)

5            Dayton (OH)

4            Richmond (VA)

3            Massachusetts (Amherst, MA)

2            Rhode Island (Kingston, RI)

1            St. Bonaventure (NY)

CATEGORY 3—TRADITION

The original Big East came with plenty of prestige and tradition that we’re hoping this new league can continue. For any shot at that, you’re going to need the majority of your newcomers to be able to hold their own on that front.

Boiled down to its simplest form, the tradition of your program is based on how often it attains postseason success. So to measure it, I gave teams one point for each NCAA tournament appearance, and a two-point bonus for each Final Four appearance. Final Four berth also serves as a points tie-breaker over non-Final Four teams:

14            DePaul                                     18+FF                        20

14            St. Joseph’s                                    18+FF                        20

12            Dayton                                     14+FF                        16

11            Providence                                     15                        15

10            La Salle                                     11+FF                        12

9            Seton Hall                                     9+FF                        11

8            George Washington                        10                        10

7            Massachusetts                        7+FF                        9

6            Richmond                                     9                        9

5            St. Bonaventure                        6+FF                        8

4            Rhode Island                                    8                        8

3            Duquesne                                    5+FF                        7

2            St. Louis                                    7                        7

1            Fordham                                    4                        4

CATEGORY 4—FAN SUPPORT

The easiest way to gauge this is by average attendance. Granted it may not be the most accurate way, since it hurts teams with smaller venues. But the numbers were easily available and no system is perfect. Ideally, our conference is going to be playing on a big stage night in and night out, and if the little guys are good enough, their stats will carry them in other areas of the formula. These are average home attendance numbers from 2012, as reported by the NCAA:

14            Dayton                        12,154

13            Providence                        7,883

12            St. Louis                        7,757

11            DePaul                        7,740

10            Seton Hall                        6,941

9            Richmond                        5,660

8            Massachusetts            4,279

7            St Joseph’s                        4,197

6            St Bonaventure            3,926

5            Rhode Island                        3,829

4            Duquesne                        3,204

3            George Washington            2,561

2            Fordham                        2,343

1            La Salle                        2,209

CATEGORY 5—FUTURE OUTLOOK

Finally, the least scientific of the predictors, ranking the team based on their “outlook.” Basically, it’s my subjective estimation of how rosy your future looks right now as a program. Teams such as St. Louis and St. Bonaventure, who have been trending upward with recent success of coaches or star players, get more points than teams that have been trending downward. To save column space, you can read those scores in the final tally chart below:

FINAL TALLY:

Team REC GEOG TRAD FAN FUT AVG RANK
Dayton 11 5 12 14 11 10.6 1*
Rich 14 4 6 9 13 9.2 5*
StL 12 9 2 12 14 9.8 3*
Duq 9 7 3 4 6 5.8 10
UMass 8 3 7 8 9 7.0 9
GW 3 10 8 3 2 5.2 11
Seton 13 8 9 10 12 10.4 2*
DePaul 2 14 14 11 5 9.2 5*
Prov 5 6 11 13 3 7.6 7*
LaSalle 6 12 10 1 7 7.4 8
StJ 7 12 14 7 8 9.6 4*
Ford 1 13 1 2 1 3.6 14
RI 10 2 4 5 4 5.0 13
St.Bona 4 1 5 6 10 5.2 11

 A quick rundown of the selections:

Dayton: A rising mid-major presence with a respectable tradition. Their fan support is unrivaled in the A-10 and is on par with that of major conference schools (among 338 Division I schools, they ranked 28th in attendance). Their venue is no slouch either, and is the NCAA’s preferred site for the “First Four” games during the first round of the Tournament.

Seton Hall: Another Big East member representing the New York metro area (albeit on the Jersey side). Rarely will finish in the top-half of the conference, but always scrappy enough to make itself noticed and instigate bitter rivalries.

St. Louis: Rick Majerus has this team on the up-and up, earning them top honors in the “Outlook” category. The westernmost team in the conference, they offer another presence in top-20 media market.

St. Joseph’s: A historic and tradition-rich Big 5 member. Phil Martelli’s Hawks haven’t exactly had eye-popping success since the Jameer Nelson days, but they give you another presence in the Philadelphia area, with a chance to rebuild what’s sure to be an entertaining rivalry with Villanova.

Richmond: Another respectable mid-major with a respectable coach and a track record for giant killing, especially in the Big Dance. A budding rivalry with VCU could make Richmond the next “Basketball City USA.”

DePaul: Tradition and location carry the Blue Demons here, and it’s probably for the best. Your league needs a presence in Chicago, for no other reason than recruiting. Tapping into the nation’s third-largest TV audience doesn’t hurt either. If DePaul can recapture the glory days of Ray Meier, it could send this conference through the roof.

Providence: An original Big East member, but with a program currently in disarray, they were likely saved by their namesake municipality more than anything else. Being the only ticket in town may have been just enough to give the Friars the edge over geographically redundant La Salle.

So our final conference lineup is:

1. Georgetown
2. Marquette
3. Xavier
4. Villanova
5. Butler
6. Virginia Commonwealth
7. St. John’s
8. Dayton
9. Seton Hall
10. St. Joseph’s
11. Richmond
12. St. Louis
13. DePaul
14. Providence

Did the selection process work? From a talent standpoint? From a tradition standpoint? It’s tough to judge. But I will say this—the league we created feels like it could be a version of the Big East.

In hindsight, it’s probably for the best that UMass and Rhode Island didn’t make it in. Just as with the original Big East, our conference has taken on a decidedly urban (and private school) flair. Admittedly, I was rooting for Fordham to make the grade, since it would be great to see big-time basketball played in The Bronx again. Alas, they are utterly worthless at everything but geography.

And it was oh-so-close for La Salle, who boasts a history of Final Four success (albeit a distant one) but just couldn’t get out of the shadow of their fellow Big 5 brothers in the City of Brotherly Love.

All that’s left now for our basketball conference is a name. Any suggestions?

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7 Comments on “Reincarnating the Big East”

  1. September 25, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    I like this very much.

    One school that merits consideration is George Mason. It boasts a recent FF appearance, the DC television market and access to the suburban Virginia fan base.

    If I had to pair them with another entrant I’d choose Duquense. Pittsburgh is a good market that fits geographically and the school fits culturally (urban/private). It also bridges what would be a large gap in the map between Dayton and Georgetown.

  2. Jersey alum
    September 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    No consideration for Creighton?

  3. September 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

    Good article. The Big East is just way too could of a basketball conference to see it go. With the right additions, and none of these football add-ons, it could be a terrific and stable conference.

  4. jeff wolf
    September 25, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Dome:
    Thanks for the kudos, and good points. Mason is definitely a solid choice, as is fellow CAA member Old Dominion down in Norfolk, VA. (However, since ODU is joining conference USA and moving their football program up to the FBS level, they no longer qualify for consideration here.)

    Mason averaged 13.6 wins/season in CAA play over the last 5 years. The CAA is a little more top-heavy than the parity-rich A10, so their wins would be devalued a bit to compare here. They played to an average of 5,161 fans (which would have earned them 8 pts in that category). And they have 6 NCAA bids plus a Final 4 (good for a tie with St. Bona at the 5 pt plateau). All in all, a solid candidate.

  5. jeff wolf
    September 25, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    Jersey:
    In putting myself in the shoes of the traditional Big East, I thought to surround myself with as many similar schools as possible. From a geographic standpoint, that’s largely East Coast schools, and from that standpoint, Creighton is pretty far west (granted, when you consider distances to Chicago and St. Louis, probably not that much farther). It’s also much sleeker to simply combine two powerful conferences that share your geographic target area than to cherry-pick teams, if you have the option of doing so.

    HOWEVER… Creighton is a team that fits a lot of the criteria for this league. 1) It’s an incredibly solid, consistent program from a W-L standpoint. 2) It has crazy dedicated fan support. 3) It’s located in a decently sized metropolitan area.

    I just crunched the numbers on Creighton, and here’s what comes out:

    Creighton averaged 11.6 conference wins per season over the last 5 seasons. Assuming that MVC competition is fairly equal to A10 competition (which I think is a safe assumption), Creighton finishes a whole win ahead of the field (14 pts)

    Omaha is the 58th largest market, putting it just ahead of dayton in our rankings (5 pts)

    Creighton averaged 16,665 fans per home game, topping every other team in consideration by at least 4,000 fans (14 pts)

    Creighton has made 17 NCAA tournament apperances, putting them in 3rd place behind DePaul and St Joe’s. Creighton has never played in the Final 4. (12 pts)

    In comparing Creighton to the other schools from an “outlook” standpoint, I award them 14 points for their consistent output of quality teams.

    In our highly unscientific evaluation system, Creighton grades out to a whopping 11.8 points!

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