College Basketball: Next Steps for Catholic 7, UConn, Cincinnati and Temple?

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College Basketball: Next Steps for Catholic 7, UConn, Cincinnati and Temple?
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, college basketball fans!

I have long been unhappy with the Big East Conference.

They were once a proud basketball conference with Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall, St. John's, Syracuse and Villanova. All the teams were in the Northeast. They had teams in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh areas. They played their conference tournament in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

During the 1980s, Georgetown and Villanova won national championships. St. John's, Syracuse, Providence and Seton Hall made Final Fours. The Big East had two Final Four teams in 1987 and an unprecedented three in 1985 (including both finalists). 

Then the Big East started sponsoring football. Only three original Big East members (Boston College, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) played football. The Big East was able to attract the University of Miami, who had won four football national championships as its flagship school. Other original Big East football schools were Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Miami was invited as a full member.

Then in 1994 the Big East invited Rutgers and West Virginia as all sport members.Virginia Tech was later invited as a full member. Temple, the only remaining football only school, was eventually kicked out of the Big East.

When the Big East lost three members (Miami, Virginia Tech and charter member Boston College), they could have invited Temple back. Instead they went with South Florida, who had only played football since 1997 (FBS football since 2000). In addition, they expanded to the Central time zone with Marquette and DePaul. The conference had 16 teams.

Eventually, the Big East had decided to chase football at the expense of basketball.

TCU was invited as a full member in 2010 even though they could (and should) have been invited for football only. TCU would have been the 17th member of the Big East and the first team west of the Mississippi River. They were also not a good basketball program (like Rutgers and South Florida).

Syracuse and Pittsburgh then were invited to the ACC. I do not know the exact reasons why the two wanted to leave the Big East. But I think the TCU invite may have contributed. The ACC had fewer teams, were a stronger basketball conference from top to bottom and all of the teams at the time were in east coast states (none west of the Mississippi).

Ironically, TCU later was invited to the Big 12 Conference and saved the rest of the Big East from travel west of the Mississippi River and from an RPI killer.

But after TCU and later West Virginia accepted Big 12 invites, the Big East invited Houston and SMU as full members (along with Central Florida), once again extending the Big East west of the Mississippi and adding more basketball challenged members. The Big East also invited Boise State and San Diego State, but as football only members. 

The last straw was Tulane being invited. Marquette's athletic director had said he was "not pleased" with Tulane being invited. Seven Big East schools decided to withdraw from the conference.

The "Catholic Seven" have freed themselves from many of the far away dead weight basketball schools. They can now invite new members that favor basketball and are more geographically compatible.

Meanwhile, the Big East (if the Catholic Seven do not take the conference name with them) now has nine full members (Connecticut, Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, Tulane, Houston and SMU) and four football only members (Boise State, San Diego State, Navy, and East Carolina).

Among the nine new members, six of them are in southern states. Of these six, only one of them (Memphis) can be considered a credible basketball program. Meanwhile, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple are in big trouble. 

When Temple was finally invited to the Big East last year, I was excited. I couldn't wait until Temple was able to play Villanova in conference as well as Connecticut, Georgetown and other East Coast schools. Now, Connecticut is the only east coast conference opponent left.

While Connecticut and Cincinnati would love to join the ACC (they were candidates to replace Maryland before the ACC took Louisville), they (and Temple) cannot accept the Big East Conference (assuming the football schools get to keep the name) as is. 

Unless the ACC rescues any or all of the three schools (Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple), the three schools' best course of action is to seek admission in either the Catholic Seven conference or the Atlantic 10 in all sports but football and to seek football only memberships in the MAC (Mid American Conference).

Connecticut and Temple are clearly basketball first schools. While Cincinnati has had some success in football, they also have a very proud basketball history (1992 Final Four). All three of these schools cannot sacrifice their basketball program to play in a better football conference (if you assume the new Big East is even better than the MAC as the MAC did have a BCS representative this season).

Temple was formerly an MAC football only member before being being invited to the Big East. Massachusetts is currently an MAC football only member. They certainly would be open to football only membership. Right now, the MAC has an unstable 13 members. At the very least, they would like to have another member to even the divisions. 

It is in the MAC's interest to invite all three of these members. Many of the MAC schools (six of the current members) are in Ohio. Cincinnati and Miami University compete annually in the Battle for the Victory Bell. That would become a conference game. Connecticut and Temple would increase the MAC's East Coast presence.

The only problem would be if the MAC would take Temple back after they left. Hopefully the Owls left on good terms.

If the MAC takes Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple, it would be a 16 team conference. Cincinnati could join the West Division with either Miami or Bowling Green sliding over from the East Division. Connecticut and Temple would then join the East Division. Another possibility is to switch to a North and South alignment.

As for basketball, the Catholic Seven and Atlantic 10 Conferences would be a huge upgrade over the new Big East. An easy move would be for the Catholic Seven to invite Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple. That would be the best scenario for the three. Connecticut and Cincinnati could keep their rivalries with Georgetown and Villanova. Temple can have a city rival with Villanova.

However the question is will the Catholic Seven invite them? They have to know Cincinnati and Connecticut really want to join the ACC and would leave for sure if the ACC did invite them. While Temple was not mentioned as a replacement for Maryland, the Catholic Seven already has Villanova and probably would not want Temple. Also, the seven Catholic schools may prefer other Catholic schools or at the very least private schools.

If the Catholic Seven pass on Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple, then Xavier, a Catholic university with a rich basketball tradition, would have to be the most desired candidate. Xavier and Dayton are close rivals and may have to be a package deal.

If they want to stick with another Catholic school, St. Louis would be a candidate for a 10th school although Duquesne is also a possibility (St. Joseph's, LaSalle and Fordham are already in current Catholic Seven markets).

If they wish to go beyond Catholic members, Butler would be a strong candidate (especially after beating Indiana). Virginia Commonwealth is also a great basketball program but they are a large public university. If the Catholic Seven want to stick with private schools only, Richmond would be an option.

There is a strong chance one or more Atlantic 10 teams will be targeted by the Catholic Seven. If so, I hope the Atlantic 10 will consider allowing Temple to return and will invite Connecticut and Cincinnati.

If Xavier leaves for the new Catholic Seven conference, Cincinnati would be a natural replacement for them. Connecticut would increase their New England presence. Temple has been a long time member and has contributed tremendously to the Atlantic 10 growing as a conference. The Atlantic10 already has two teams from Philadelphia, but Temple is a far more valuable school than either St. Joseph's or La Salle.

Of course they could invite the three and see one or more of them leave if the ACC comes calling. But even one or two years of these three teams would be a big boost to the Atlantic 10.

Between the Atlantic 10, Catholic Seven, Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple, there are 24 members total. You can split these teams into two 12 team conferences or one 10 team conference and one 14 team conference depending on whether the Catholic Seven prefer a 10 team league or a 12 team league.

Since they will not sponsor football, a conference football championship game is not applicable. A 10 team league allows each team to play everyone twice (home and away) while a 12 will require some teams to play only once.

If the Catholic Seven adds three Atlantic 10 teams, the Atlantic 10, in my opinion, should add Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple. Even if the Catholic Seven goes to 12 teams, the Atlantic 10 should just add the three and also become a 12 team league. A 14-team league is too huge in my opinion, unless the two extra teams bring in a lot of extra money to justify splitting it among two extra members.

Cincinnati, UConn and Temple cannot afford to stay in what is left of the Big East Conference, especially if they decide to add more full members west of the Mississippi River. The combination of the MAC in football and either the Atlantic 10 or the Catholic Seven conference would be a huge improvement over what remains of the Big East.

I almost think it would be better for the three to seek full membership in the MAC over the remaining Big East schools (although Memphis is far better in basketball than any MAC school).

My true dream would be Connecticut and Temple join the ACC. Cincinnati and Memphis could join the Big 12, giving the Big 12 two new markets and additional members east of the Mississippi and two members closer to West Virginia. 

I do like the idea of the Catholic Seven finally breaking free from the Big East. I hope they as well as Cincinnati, Connecticut and Temple come out of this all right and play in basketball conferences they can be excited about playing in.

I have one final piece of advice for the Catholic Seven. Stay east of the Mississippi. I can live with St. Louis as they are right along the river and two Catholic Seven members (DePaul and Marquette) are in the Central Time Zone already. But Creighton is too far away and Omaha isn't much of a TV market.

As tempting as Gonzaga is, just say no. Or hopefully Gonzaga has enough sense to say no. I've said this with football and I'll say it again. Don't force all your other athletic teams into long and unnecessary travel for one sport. Didn't you leave the Big East for that reason?

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