In December, the seven Catholic universities of the Big East announced they would be leaving the conference to go off on their own.
The seven schools—Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown, Seton Hall, DePaul and Providence—who don’t participate in Division 1 FBS football will be looking to start a new conference whose primary athletic focus will be basketball.
It has been recently reported by ESPN that Fox has offered the Catholic Seven (as they have been dubbed) a $500 million offer to televise its games.
The fact that this gigantic sum of money is being offered is an early indicator they will likely have to invite more schools to their basketball centric conference.
In the coming months the presidents of the Catholic Seven will have to decide which schools are most deserving of an invitation.
This article aims to grade the appeal of each potential candidate based on their basketball program, similarity to the Catholic Seven, fan base and geographic location.
The Butler Bulldogs are as appealing a candidate to the Catholic Seven as any team in the land.
Their recent success on the court is unprecedented for a mid-major. They advanced to the National Championship Game in back-to-back seasons (2010,2011) and qualified for the NCAA Tournament each season from 2007 to 2011.
Further, they would open up the basketball crazy Indiana market to the conference.
This, combined with a great home court in the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, makes Butler a top target for the Catholic Seven.
One might believe that Butler would shy away from jumping to a new conference after only joining the Atlantic 10 this season, but reports coming from their athletic department show otherwise.
Of all the teams considered in this article, Butler and Xavier probably have the highest likelihood of making the move.
The Jesuit University located in Spokane, Washington fits perfectly with all of the Catholic Seven schools except for the matter of location.
The basketball program might not have the Final Four appearances that Butler does, but they have qualified for the NCAA tournament for the past 14 consecutive seasons (the third longest active streak in the country).
Without a doubt, Gonzaga could compete and threaten to win the new conference year-in and year-out.
They also have become a household name in the college basketball community, and would make whoever buys the television rights for the conference happy.
However, the added travel cost of bringing in a west coast school does create issues bringing Gonzaga’s grade down slightly.
If the Catholic Seven is going to accept Gonzaga, it is likely going to have to accept another west coast school as well. Having another school on that side of the country will make travelling easier and less costly for everyone involved.
Saint Mary’s would be the Catholic Seven’s most logical choice.
They already have a rivalry with Gonzaga, plus they have proven they can compete with anyone in the country.
In 2010 they advanced all the way to the Sweet Sixteen, upsetting the No. 2 seed Villanova in the process.
Additionally, Saint Mary’s is a Roman Catholic university strengthening its ties to the Catholic Seven even further.
The thing to keep in mind with St. Mary’s, though, is that them being included is entirely contingent on Gonzaga getting invited first.
Also, their home gym only holds 3,500 fans, a significantly lower number than many other schools being considered for the new conference.
Like several other schools on this list VCU has made a name for itself with upsets in the NCAA tournament.
From advancing to the Final Four in 2011 and the third round of the NCAA tournament in 2012, VCU has emerged on the national stage in recent years.
The program features one of the best young coaches in college basketball in Shaka Smart and has produced several adequate NBA players like Larry Sanders of the Milwaukee Bucks and Eric Maynor of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The drawback with VCU is that they might not be too eager to leave the Atlantic 10. Unlike Butler, there has been no official word from their athletic department regarding the matter.
If the Catholic Seven can pry this Richmond school away from the A-10 it would be an excellent catch for the budding conference.
Also, it must be considered that the Catholic Seven might not invite public universities. In my opinion that would be silly, but it would rule out VCU as a candidate.
The Creighton Blue Jays are currently the No. 13 ranked team in the country according to the AP Poll and poised to wreak havoc on a wide-open NCAA Tournament field.
For that reason and many others, Creighton is an elite candidate to be included in the Catholic Seven conference.
The school has a rich basketball history with 17 NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Sweet 16.
With its loyal and dedicated fan base, the school is more than ready to make the jump to a more nationally prominent conference.
Being a Catholic university, as well, only makes the Blue Jays that much more appealing.
Expect Creighton to be one of the first schools to receive an invitation to the new conference.
By all measures UConn seems like it would be an ideal fit for the new Catholic Seven conference. They have a rich and storied basketball program, a great fan base and are geographically located near most of the schools.
However, there is one glaring reason as to why the Catholic Seven should avoid the UConn Huskies.
They play FBS football.
They may not have publicly said it, but we all know that UConn would have run faster than Usain Bolt to the Big Ten or ACC had they been invited to join either conference.
Even if they joined the Catholic Seven’s new conference, as long as they care about maintaining a legitimate football program, there will constantly be the threat of them leaving.
The new Catholic Seven conference should be fully committed to being the nation’s top basketball conference and bringing in a school like UConn will only mean more distractions from that mission.
Cincinnati is in a similar boat to UConn. By most measures they should be included in the Catholic Seven conference, but they are committed to having an FBS football program.
The recent hiring of a big name football coach like Tommy Tuberville only further validates this point.
I believe it is the best interest of the Catholic Seven to avoid inviting schools with FBS football programs at all costs.
The reason they’re all leaving the Big East now is because of all the FBS schools fleeing the conference in search of more football revenue.
Cincinnati and UConn are no different from Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville and Rutgers. If given the opportunity to join a grander football conference, they will accept it and ditch the new Catholic Seven conference in a heartbeat.
Xavier is a school that if it joins the Catholic Seven will immediately become a perennial contender for the conference championship.
With six trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the Elite Eight already on its resumè, Xavier has been a Midwest basketball power for years.
From Thad Matta to Sean Miller and now to Chris Mack the Xavier basketball program has kept on winning.
This ability of Xavier to stay a strong program without having to rely on a singular coach makes it an extremely appealing option to the Catholic Seven.
Also, they have averaged over 10,000 fans per game for the past five seasons, play in a relatively large market and are a Catholic school.
From a basketball, business and school type standpoint Xavier is an outstanding fit.
Dayton might not stack up favorably with other potential members of the Catholic Seven conference, but they are not a team to overlook.
In 2009, the Dayton Flyers advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and in 2010 they won the NIT.
Accepting Dayton into the conference might not significantly improve the conference’s basketball prowess, but if it accepts both Dayton and Xavier it will be taking in one of college basketball’s most underrated rivalries.
Like all conferences this new conference is going to need rivalries. And while the rivalries between the Catholic Seven schools are already intense, adopting new rivalries will only make the action more intriguing.
For that reason Dayton’s grade gets a boost up to a B+.
When evaluating the Saint Louis Billikens try not to disturbed by the ugliness of their mascot. The way that creature seemingly “looks” at you, creeps me out every time I watch Saint Louis play.
However, once you get past the mascot shenanigans, Saint Louis actually has a pretty good basketball program.
Rick Majerus led them to a 25-7 season and a trip to the third round of the NCAA tournament a year ago, and new coach Jim Crews has them off to an 11-3 start this season.
Saint Louis doesn’t have the name power of a Gonzaga or Butler, but they would be a nice addition to the conference.
Also, the Billikens have a state-of-the-art arena, are located in a major television market and are a Jesuit University.
In 2006 George Mason became the first mid-major school to advance to the Final Four.
Since then the George Mason Patriots have quietly kept playing excellent basketball. In 2012, they finished with 23 wins and in 2011 they won 27 ball games.
In any conference, winning that many games is impressive and must not be overlooked.
Still, it would be a gargantuan leap for George Mason to go from playing in the CAA to the new Catholic Seven conference.
Would this underdog be able to withstand the difficulties of playing a quality opponent every single night?
George Mason will not be the new conference’s first choice, but it would be an adequate newcomer if other schools turned down their invitations or the Catholic Seven decided not to expand west.
Lastly, the fact that George Mason is a state school might factor into whether or not they’re invited. It remains to be seen if the Catholic Seven will invite public universities.
In recent years the Missouri Valley Conference has become arguably the premier mid-major conference in the country.
A large part of that success can be attributed to Wichita State. The Wichita State Shockers qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and 2012 and won the NIT in 2011.
In 2012 they were even good enough to earn a No. 5 seed before being upset by VCU.
Also favoring their cause is that they play in one of the rowdiest arenas in the country. In a 2012 ESPN poll, Koch Arena was deemed the 10th best home-court advantage nationally.
Like George Mason, VCU, UConn, and Cincinnati though, Wichita State is a public school.
If the Catholic Seven chooses to exclude public universities, Wichita State will be one of the schools left out.