Conference realignment 10 years later: the reshaping of college basketball

When  it  comes  to  college hoops,  regional rivalries have consistently dominated the minds of local fans and created. In New Jersey, Rutgers and Seton Hall sit just 30 miles from each other and have left New Jersey split. The schools grew a disdain for each other during their 23 years together in  the  Big East,  but  conference realignment has stripped the  rivalry of  the  in-conference stakes that the matchups once included. While the Big East provided a framework for Rutgers and Seton Hall to face once, twice, or even three times each season, the split has put each school into a position to make an effort to face the other each year creating a novelty to a once frequent rivalry.

Thus, in 2014 the Garden State Hardwood  Classic was created. Here, New Jersey fans of college basketball battle as the two teams face each other in  a single non-conference game that has left the state divided between red and blue, but  lost is the  occasional Big East Tournament matchup and conference standing stakes that were once sacred to teams in regional proximity.

Photo via SHU Athletics

College  basketball  was  in a constant  state of flux from 2010 to 2015 with confusion and controversy running  ram- pant. This time of frequent changes in conferences for major colleges were mostly driven by football revenue, cable subscribers and greater prestige or reputation.  These reasons can be summed up into one word: greed.

In late 2009, the Big Ten, the nation’s oldest intercollegiate athletic conference, announced they would begin a “thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion.” Speculation would suggest the Big Ten was looking to add more markets for their Big Ten  Network television con- tract that would be expiring in 2017. Nebraska soon took the open invitation and solidified the Big Ten as a hockey conference while furthering boosting their football, but this did not do much to increase the BTN. They had  their  eyes on  a market unlike any represented by the Big Ten: New York City. The  Big Ten  extended an invitation to Rutgers to leave the  Big East as their  football conference  seemed  it  would be coming  to  an  end  or  going through  a steep dropoff. Though Rutgers had had moderate success under Greg Schiano just a few years earlier, the addition of Rutgers and the stealing of Maryland from the ACC just a few months earlier were seen as hits to the reputation of Big Ten football.

Despite  this  fear, these ad- ditions lead to the BTN being added  to  cable subscribers in the New York City and Wash- ington,  D.C.  metro areas and the  2017  signing of a $2.64 billion TV agreement with ESPN, FOX, and CBS. Steve Berkowitz of  USA Today  re- ported the 12 longest standing Big Ten  schools received $54 million  in  2018,  higher than any other  conference by over $9 million.

The Big 12 continued being hurt by conference realignment when six schools were invit- ed to join the Pac-10, though only Colorado would officially do so, and Missouri and Texas A&M left for the SEC. The Big 12 was encouraged by the decision of those five others to not join the Pac-10 and added TCU,  formerly committed to the Big East, and West Virgin- ia, formerly of the Big East.

The Big East continued to lose when Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame  (went  independent in football) and Louisville saw the greener  (money-infused) pastures of ACC football and basketball leaving the Big East to just 10 schools: Cincinnati, Connecticut,  DePaul, George- town, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John’s and Villanova.

There was constant specu- lation  of what  the  remaining ten schools in the Big East would do and countless rumors swirled around what schools would be asked to join. Blog- gers posted their opinions with ideas as outlandish  as pairing with the  Big West for a con- ference championship game to pairing with Conference-USA for football, from adding var- ious east coast urban  schools like Boston University, North- eastern, Fordham and NYU while extending south with Richmond and William & Mary. Even only adding Cath- olic schools like LaSalle, St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure’s and Xavier while pleading with No- tre Dame not to leave was seen as an option and, a personal favorite, telling Seton Hall to join the Atlantic-10 and em- brace their on  campus arena (Fully biased note here: Seton Hall  is currently amidst  the upper echelon of the Big East with four straight tournament appearances and a fifth seem- ingly locked in). There  were  big  plans that seemed universally unpopular.

Some suggested  with the Big 12  and  Big East  both  being ravaged by conferences better at football, why not merge, while others turned to smaller schools such as Tulane  as the answer to the football question. The  “Providence  Plan” was devised by the smaller, private, and  more  basketball-focused schools to  secede from what the Big East had become with their 7-3 two-thirds majority vote.

The   Catholic   7   dissolved what  is  now  known  as  the “Old Big East” to pursue a bas- ketball-based Olympic sports conference, and,  though  there were suggested name  changes, Catholic-10, VAT(ican)-10, or Cardinal Conference, they were able to keep the Big East name along with the famed Big East Tournament  venue, Madison Square Garden. They then add- ed Butler, Creighton and Xavi- er and signed a 12-year, $500 million contract with Fox to fill out much of the program- ming for their new Fox Sports networks, a  deal that  ESPN refused to  match despite the Big East’s role in the birth of ESPN.

Since conference realignment “ended” in 2013, three conferences have won national championships: the AAC, which  included  the  Big East leftovers after the separation of the Catholic 7, the ACC and the Big East. The New Big East has sent at least four teams to the NCAA tournament each season since with a high of seven teams in 2016-17. The Big East has gotten back to a level skeptics thought would take much longer if even at all.

Under the leadership of com- missioner  Val Ackerman,  the first president of the WNBA, the Big East has had amazing success as seen in in 2018 with incredible attendance  num- bers for the annual conference tournament  surpassing each of the Power 5 conferences, even the Big Ten, who used the Big East’s venue for their  tourna- ment just a week before the Big East.  As Yahoo’s  Dan  Wetzel puts it, “There is an ethos to the Big East Tournament, one that the other leagues have forever failed to  duplicate.” The Big East boasts a history ingrained in the “Mecca of Basketball” that  no  league can  counter, even if it is a second iteration of the league that set a Final Four  record of three schools from one conference. MSG is an oft-touted recruiting tactic that has continued the legacy of an unmatched conference tournament.

Jon Veenstra can be reached at jonathan.veenstra@student.shu. edu.

Author: Staff Writer

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