Of all the schools who will eventually be harmed in the great conference realignment of this century, there is a very strong argument that my alma mater, Georgetown University, may suffer more damage than any other.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious. There may not be another basketball powerhouse without a “real” football program (we have a team, but it is not possible for us to upgrade to Division 1 status) who, thanks largely to issues beyond its control, has less leverage in finding a situation as good as it currently has or is more poorly situated to ease into a less glamorous set of circumstances.
There is also no such school where the rest of the athletic department relies so heavily on basketball for revenue and prestige.
Because the Hoyas play in a massive NBA arena and no longer have a suitable on-campus facility (or even really the potential for one), basketball is basically an all-or-nothing proposition for Georgetown. It is go big or go home. Only GU literally doesn’t have a real home.
Now that the Big East as it has been constituted since before GU came to national prominence is no longer in existence, they find themselves in the desperate situation of seemingly having to sell their soul to maintain some semblance of being a “big time” player as well as at least some pipeline to the BCS football money which is driving almost all of the chaos.
The latest rumor is that, in an apparent fit of panic-induced delusion, the remaining members of the Big East conference (at least the football members, as if any of the others actually matter) and the soon to be equally ransacked Big 12 will merge in order to maintain their BCS viability. But even if the Big 12 somehow manages to stay together, Big East football is still on very thin ice.
What Should Non Football Schools in the Big East do?
While no one knows how long it will take for the dust to settle, there is little doubt that UConn, Rutgers, West Virgina, Louisville and TCU are all looking to get out and there could easily be spots for all but one of them as the ACC, SEC and Big 12 all look to expand (even if the PAC 12 stays as is). Assuming that is the case, here is an optimistic look at what would be left of the non affiliated football schools who have been mentioned as possible Big East members:
Rutgers or Louisville or West Virgina, TCU, Cincinnati, South Florida, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Army, Navy, and Air Force.
As you can see, this is a rather motley crew. None has come close to winning a modern national title and none are TV ratings winners.
Now Villanova (a Big East basketball member) is in the process of elevating its football program to Division 1, but adding the fledgling Wildcats is hardly going to assure this new configuration a place at the BCS banquet.
What are the other options for legitimate additions here? Unless Notre Dame shocks the world, other than the underwhelmingly mediocre Houston or Memphis, I honestly can’t think of one.
Even if you assume that everything goes perfectly for this type of merger, the conference that materializes BARELY makes the grade as an automatic BCS qualifier under the current standards.
However, what those behind this lame idea fail to realize is that in the new world order in which these golden tickets will be handed out, it won’t even come close to getting the job done.
Currently, if a conference has two or three traditional powers and a bunch of decent contenders, you get one of the six automatic spots and the annual cash windfall that comes with it.
After the emergence of the super conferences, if you don’t have at least four or five legitimate big-time players (on the field and in the TV ratings), you will simply get laughed out of the BCS party. The reality is that the most likely scenario is some sort of playoff where only the big boys would be allowed access to the financial windfall.
So if the basketball members of the Big East (like Georgetown) really think they can save their financial hides buying selling out their traditions and the geographical integrity of their other sports, they are truly fooling themselves. The very worst thing they could do it give up control of their destiny to football with no real reward.
Now, as for the basketball conference that could emerge in this scenario (assuming the academies are not included), here is what that would look like.
In the Eastern Time Zone you would have: Rutgers or Louisville or West Virginia, Cincinnati, South Florida, Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s.
In the Central Time Zone it would be: Houston or Memphis, DePaul, Marquette, TCU, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Notre Dame.
While the new configuration of Big East/Big 12 leftovers may appear solid enough for basketball, in practice it simply won’t work, even economically.
Take Georgetown as an example. Currently they generally “fill” their NBA arena when they play a well-known conference rival and their one annual high-profile non-conference opponent. Because most of their visiting opponents are from the eastern region, many of the spectators come to see the other team.
Under this merger plan, only a couple of marquee games would remain and most of the contests would be played against teams with which GU has nothing in common who are located too far away to bring a crowd for a weeknight basketball game (good luck with travel schedules in the middle of winter!).
As for bringing in non-conference teams, why would Duke still come to them when they now have to play at least four more highly challenging conference games in the ACC?
From a TV perspective, this merger also has numerous issues, with the time zone problem leading the way. At best, it would have to take a seat far behind both the ACC and the Big 10 when it comes to prime TV time slots and with few natural rivalries, it is hard to see how it creates much ratings juice.
I could also go into the details about how devastating the geography of this new conference would be for all of the non-revenue sports, but I have long since concluded that such academic issues have utterly no significance in this debate.
So, what is the answer? The only realistic scenario which is both economically viable while maintaining a semblance of tradition and academic/geographic integrity is what some are calling the “Catholic League” option (I prefer “The Catholic 10”, “The VAT(ican) 10” or “The Cardinal Conference”). This would be a conference with no football which would look like this:
Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul, LaSalle and St. Joseph’s.
These schools all share more than just a common academic and religious culture. This conference would also be the answer to a great trivia question: Which is the only league to have every school make at least one basketball Final Four? (If that wasn't considered a big deal, then Xavier and St. Boneventure, who has also been to a Final Four, could certainly be added to the mix to make 12.)
There would obviously be issues to ironed out (like Notre Dame deciding long-term that they will remain a football independent), but they are hardly insurmountable, and the result far exceeds that of any other scenario currently being discussed. Each game would have at least some meaning and the conference itself would have a unique and dynamic identity (especially compared to being known as "the leftovers").
It is far past time for someone in college athletics to take a stand for something more than the (in this case fruitless) pursuit of dollars. This proposal would be a great place to start and may be the only path to long-term survival for schools like Georgetown.