With football driving conference realignment, what will happen to the basketball-only schools?
One issue surrounding conference realignment in the NCAA is what will happen to the basketball-only schools.
The Big East features eight teams that do not have football programs at the Division I level. Since football is driving the realignment train, the interests of these programs will be cast aside in the pursuit of the extra dollars that the gridiron generates compared to the hardwood.
With the futures of storied programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and St. John's up in the air, there is a lot of speculation about where they will end up. Former college coach Tom Penders had a unique solution to this dilemma.
While saying it is the best conference in the country may be hyperbole, he is on to something. Since the Big 12 isn't interested in merging, the option of the Big East becoming a basketball-only conference and adding mid-major powers such as Butler and Xavier seems like a good idea. Let's break it down further.
Current Big East Teams
St. John's Red Storm
DePaul Blue Devils
Assuming the Big East wants to go basketball-only, Cincinnati, UConn, Lousiville and West Virginia would want out. Notre Dame would likely join another conference for football benefits. What remains is a pretty solid cornerstone of programs with tradition and good fanbases. The conference would likely then find six more teams from mid-major conferences to fill it out.
Butler Bulldogs (Horizon)
Xavier Musketeers (Atlantic 10)
Dayton Flyers (Atlantic 10)
These three teams would jump at the chance to join the Big East. Butler is an emerging power and would relish the opportunity to play in a better conference. Xavier has made the NCAA tournament nine out of the past 10 seasons and would be a nice addition. Dayton has a rabid fan base and has seen similar success. As for the final three spots, there are many options.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams (CAA)
George Mason Patriots (CAA)
Richmond Spiders (Atlantic 10)
Rhode Island Rams (Atlantic 10)
UMass Minutemen (Atlantic 10)
St. Joe's Hawks (Atlantic 10)
Cleveland State Vikings (Horizon)
Of those on the list, I see St. Joe's, Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth having the best chances of getting invited. Though the Hawks have fallen off since their dominance in the early parts of the last decade, they make a traditional rival with Villanova in a Philadelphia market that is college basketball-crazy. Virginia Commonwealth may be on to something after its Final Four appearance last season and is a rapidly-growing institution in what would be a new market for the Big East. Richmond's program is also in an upward trend over the past five seasons and is a rival of VCU.
Now the question would become: "What do the rest of the conferences do?" Having to deal with this trickle-down would become a mess for mid-major conferences. The Horizon League, CAA and especially the Atlantic 10 would either have to disband or dig into lower conferences for more teams. Programs such as the Duquesne Dukes or Saint Bonaventure Bonnies that don't have the resume to join a new Big East would be left playing in worse situations than they are now.
So as the pieces of the puzzle come together and the members of the Big East anxiously await their fate, the often-forgotten mid-majors will be sweating bullets right behind them.