The Catholic 7 basketball schools of the Big East are planning their departure from the rest of the Big East and with their departure, the best basketball programs left in the disheveled conference move on for greener pastures. The only details left for the new basketball conference to sort out is how soon they can legally leave. The group of 7 would like to officially secede in 2013 but a more realistic outcome may be their departure on July 1, 2014.
In the midst of haggling a departure date, the Catholic 7 will also need to secure anywhere from 3 to 5 new members for the conference. Reports stemming from the contractual negotiations with Fox Sports suggest that the new conference will likely expand up to 12 members. Just another detail that needs to be decided is if an expansion to 12 will occur immediately or over a period of time after first expanding to 10 members.
Other factors like which schools to add, whether to make the conference geographically symmetrical by having the same number of teams on the East Coast as in the Midwest, the overall quality of the basketball product, how much institutional fit will be a factor or will expansion candidates be purely determined by basketball factors, and which television markets to add will all be characteristics that should be closely examined when inviting teams to join.
After surveying the college basketball landscape there are seven teams that immediately standout as expansion candidates: Butler, Creighton, Dayton, Richmond, St. Louis, VCU, and Xavier. Since reports first surfaced of the Catholic 7 members of the Big East seceding to form their new conference, Butler and Xavier have been rumored to be two of the first invites the new league would invite. Outside of those two exceedingly quality programs, the other rumored expansion candidates have varied with only Richmond not receiving much discussion despite the perceived fit.
Using an arbitrary five year window, the records (and locations) of the current expansion targets is listed below to better gauge how strong the basketball programs are that the Catholic 7 is looking at:
Butler 139-40 (77.6%) (Indianapolis, IN)
Creighton 119-57 (67.6%) (Omaha, NE)
Dayton 117-58 (66.8%) (Dayton, OH)
Richmond 107-64 (62.5%) (Richmond, VA)
St. Louis 95-69 (57.9%) (St. Louis, MO)
VCU 132-46 (74.1%) (Richmond, VA)
Xavier 130-45 (74.2%) (Cincinnati, OH)
Numerous reports already suggest that Creighton has been contacted by representatives of the Catholic 7 and that the Blue Jays are ready to jump at the opportunity to join – they’re just waiting for the word.
Looking at the geographic make-up of the Catholic 7 there currently are five East Coast programs (Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova) and two Midwest programs (DePaul and Marquette). Ideally, and in compliance with the human need for symmetry, there would be four Midwest programs and one East Coast program considered to provide each region six teams.
Just eye-balling it on the map, Omaha, Nebraska (home of Creighton) would seem like a geographic outlier with the rest of the Catholic 7 and most of the expansion candidates. It would seem that way until realizing that Omaha is roughly 7 hours away from Milwaukee (Marquette) and Chicago (DePaul) – only a measly two hours driving distance more than those cities from St. Louis. An addition of Creighton would be no more of an inconvenience for the Blue Jays and the rest of whoever the Catholic 7 invites than St. Louis currently is to the Atlantic 10 and its current membership.
With Butler and Xavier all but officially in the fold with the Catholic 7, and Creighton having “reportedly” been contacted already, it would seem that there would then be only two spots remaining to be filled. Those final two spots would then come down between Dayton, Richmond, St. Louis, and VCU.
Chances are that if Xavier is invited, then an invite to Dayton won’t be too far behind. Those two universities already possess a rich history having played against each other in the same conference since 1985 when Dayton joined the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. The Flyers have an intense fan base, solid basketball success, and would want to follow Xavier to the new conference. There is also little reason to suggest that the Catholic 7 would decline inviting Dayton.
That leaves three schools remaining for just one available spot.
All of the expansion candidates, with the exception of VCU, are like-minded institutions with the rest of the Catholic 7 – small, private, religious. However, all of the schools mentioned have co-existed in conferences with a mixture of private and public universities before, including the Catholic 7 schools during their time with the Big East and currently with the expansion candidates in the Atlantic 10 and the Missouri Valley Conference.
Is “institutional fit” one of the most important factors in forming this conference? Important enough to ostracize one of the most recently successful and nationally recognized programs that’s under consideration in VCU?
It may very well be. The two biggest issues facing VCU in gaining access to the new Catholic 7 league is that they are neither Catholic (nor affiliated religiously at all) and are a public institution trying to gain an invite from a conference that’s comprised entirely of private universities. The Rams are also the only public institution that has been mentioned in expansion talks.
Richmond, on the other hand, is a private institute and has a fairly impressive basketball resume to boot. However, they too are nonsectarian and that may be one of the key reasons that they have not been mentioned in any conference expansion discussions. Both Richmond and VCU may be left in the Atlantic 10 because of “institutional fit” reasons – a reason that St. Louis doesn’t face seeing that they are both private and religiously affiliated.
The possible, and perhaps even imminent, move to invite St. Louis over VCU and Richmond is not a slight at the latter universities nor would it be considered a poor basketball decision. The Bilikens boast excellent facilities along with possessing a respectable history in the sport. On the contrary, it would represent a move to bring into the fold a university that’s not only a geographic fit but also best represents the move forward with like-minded private, religious, urban universities in forming their own conference together.
The need for symmetry may be damned in favor of the overwhelming desire for institutional fit. Uniting similar institutions into a new league created by the Catholic 7 would seem to tip the scales in favor of them inviting Butler, Creighton, Dayton, St. Louis, and Xavier; all are private, secular universities that have striking basketball resumes and would represent the best long-term fits for the new conference.
This new league, forged with whichever membership the Catholic 7 chooses to add, will accomplish one goal – it will fulfill Dave Gavitt’s dream envisioned 34 years ago of creating a premier basketball conference that can compete with the other major conferences.