Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Immaculate Collection

By Jonathan Lowe

It's been poked and prodded over for the couple of weeks. The pre-Christmas announcement for the seven Catholic (and non-football) universities to leave the Big East conference is still in its formative stages. But the decision's real, and the move's coming.

In the short term, this deal basically crushes the Big East's prowess as a basketball power. Now, I know that it been pecked at for the last couple of years. But those initial cracks in the cement have led the way for the partial crumbling of the foundation. What the football brethren of the Big East did slowly over time, the restocked basketball conglomerate equally accomplished in the matter of a few short sentences.

And, to be honest, I kind of like it.

One of the reasons that college basketball has continued to be my favorite sport to follow is the dynamics within its own ranks. When you look at professional sports, there's not much difference between the competing teams. While fan bases in a specific city vary, there's not much that changes when you go from one pro team to the next regarding personnel, philosophy, or basic management.

Division I (or FBS) college football is a bit more varied, but not too much. You basically have your power group (BCS) and your group striving for their shot (non-BCS). If you are fortunate enough to be in the former group of schools, that means a leg up on all of the amenities, resources, and talent. If you find yourself in the latter, it means scratching and clawing your way to get one, maybe two, shots at the big time. Bottom line ... you are what you are.

Even though that same principle can be applied to college basketball, there's more variety here than in any other sport (in my humble opinion). Among the top-tier programs, cycles emerge where you can gain or lose credibility based on your performance. That allows more middle-tier schools to redefine their status for the better. And even the grouping of schools that get the least amount of respect can earn their way up the ladder.

This, to me, is why conferences like the Atlantic 10, Colonial, Missouri Valley, and Mountain West have all had their moments amongst, and ahead of, the behemoths.

Which brings me back to the Catholic 7. Let's say they decide to split and join other conferences with similar connections (be it religious or geographical). Despite having to sit out a couple of NCAA tournament, their separate histories would add instant credibility to any association with their new confidants.

However, if they stay together and form a new conference, it would be fascinating to see where they stood in the landscape of the game. Among the members, you would have 164 Big Dance invites, with every school having at least one Final Four banner, five schools getting to the title game, and three boasting National Champions.

It would have its basis in some of the top cities in the country (New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, and nearby Boston). You could even think about using the educational perks that these institutions can provide as a recruiting tool.

Then again, why stop at just seven schools? With the religious theme in tow, this collective could take on a few more members. As has been said recently, wouldn't you think this might interest schools such as Dayton, Xavier, Creighton, and more?

So, while I do express some sorrow for the impending breakup of the first successful basketball megaconference (remember, the WAC didn't quite work out), I am excited to see what grows out of this discontent. In the end, they may not stay all together, but they are all for one.

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