With college basketball looming around the corner, Jon Rothstein dropped a news bit that could be considered the equivalent of politely launching a nuclear warhead right before a wedding begins.
Basically, the celebration of the sport starting is here, but will now also be met with a slew of conjecture. It is college basketball’s counter to the NBA having all the petty stars.
Rothstein is reporting that the Big East would like to go to 20-league games. However, for the conference to do such a thing, it would have to add an 11th program.
And. Here. We. Go.
People will want to pencil every big name program to the list of potential suitors. VCU, UConn, whoever else have you. That’s all fine and dandy. Ambitious, even.
But if the league were smart, and signs point to that being so, it should actually look to add a cupcake to its pool of programs.
Yes, yes; I get it. It is sexier if the conference brought in any of the aforementioned name-brand programs, or some others that are far too unrealistic to even mention. Thing is, I would argue it doesn’t serve the Big East to bring in yet another top-flight basketball power.
As it is currently constructed, the Big East already has everything you would want in a basketball-only conference.
Villanova is the national power; Providence is becoming an annual threat with one of the nation’s best coaches in Ed Cooley; Georgetown, while down, is a strong brand; Xavier remains a high-level program, St. John’s and DePaul are the two potential-rich sleeping giants in huge markets; and so on.
The Big East is lacking nothing … except a cellar-dweller that does not reside in a major market.
DePaul, St. John’s and (now) Georgetown are all expected to remain near the bottom of the league. All three of those, at least ideally, would be far more consistently near the top of the conference for the Big East to maximize its viewing audience. After all, good programs in and/or around Chicago, New York City and D.C. can only help the league.
Unfortunately, those programs can’t seem to help themselves.
The Blue Demons are closer to being actually dead as a program, as opposed to the supposed sleeping giant many want to pigeonhole them as; The Johnnies remain trying to figure things out after hiring a coach without any experience; and the Hoyas are now following the Red Storm’s formula of trying to stir the echoes of glories past by way of a program legend.
Those things can all eventually become successes without tweaking, though there’s little evidence to suggest such a thing will happen on its own — or without a little extra nudge from some friends.
Adding a VCU would certainly bolster the league’s prestige, but would it actually add extra eyeballs outside of the VCU bubble? Furthermore, with programs in markets that have the potential for eyeball-growth already within the league, it is my suggestion the league goes entirely off the board if it does intend to add another program.
Rather than looking at good programs in OK-ish markets, it is my belief the Big East should look toward iffy programs in markets it both fails to have as stranglehold in, as well it not mattering if it does well there in earnest.
Programs like an Old Dominion or Tulane.
If — and this is all conjecture anyway — the league is deadset in adding a program from a big market, then I would suggest it should add one from a lower-tier league, rather than attempting to poach a program that would/could cost several million dollars in buyout clauses.
A Stony Brook or Manhattan; a Southern or Northern Illinois; and so forth.
In a way, a program from a market both DePaul and St. John’s (or even Georgetown) are failing to capitalize off, that maybe those school might be able to, but if not, the Big East is doubling its chances at success in those areas.
Any business venture succeeds by exploiting market inefficiencies. At the foundation of my argument that a cupcake should be added is that it would be:
Cheaper to bring those schools in while directly elevating already in-brethren programs with big markets.
Doubling its own success rate by getting a lower-level program already in those bigger markets.
It is that simple. Adding a VCU or a UConn would be great. It really would. But at what cost and at what expense to teams already in the league? However, adding those types of programs would increase value in league perception, not league value.
The same (4-7) amount of teams will still being going to the NCAA Tournament annually and it is not as if any of those teams will bring in a sizable and new audience with them.
Simply put: The Big East is a brand in itself. It no longer needs others to help make it so. It has survived, and even thrived (relatively speaking), in a post-ESPN world. It has to have learned from previous mistakes.
The Big East, after the Catholic Seven had enough of Mike Aresco’s tomfoolery, was rebirthed by way of denouncing the chasing of football-money. If it plans on adding a team, any program would do if we are being honest, yet to stay true to itself in its newest form, the Big East is best served serving those who made the original reinvention work in the first place.
Everything else is, ostensibly, chasing a carrot that got the league in trouble in the first place. There’s smart greed, then there’s just greedy for the sake of being greedy.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly 10 years. He is old. He also almost made it. Then he was laid off by the big bad industry that does not love him as much as he loves it. Follow him @JosephNardone.