College / Sep 14, 2012 / 5:00 pm

The Departed: Conference Realignment in College Basketball

Notre Dame

With Wednesday’s news that Notre Dame is joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, the national conference shuffle was back again in the headlines. Notre Dame will switch from the Big East — a la Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse — in every sport except football, which it remains independent in. This move does two things to college basketball: One, it wreaks havoc on the Big East, officially making it the weakest BCS conference in basketball. Two, the ACC maintains its status as the most powerful conference in basketball yet again. No confirmation, but I think Mitch Kupchak is running the ACC these days.

This is the death knell for the Big East as they will now be headlined by Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville and Villanova; those are all respectable, but not elite programs. More jarring is that the incredibly entertaining and competitive Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden is going to be a shell of itself.

“Now the Big East is vulnerable right now, extremely vulnerable,” Jeff Goodman a college basketball writer at CBS Sports said to me Wednesday. “The ACC is clearly the best basketball league in America again.”

For purely selfish reasons alone, I do not approve of this. It makes the ACC so good that the teams are going to beat each other up and in turn eliminate each other from NCAA contention (maybe most notable on the high seed lines) throughout the year. Also, the Big East Tournament was appointment viewing from Day One to the championship and it cannot be the same minus the Huskies, Panthers and Orange. Think of it this way: 18 of the past 22 Big East championship games involved one or more of those three departing teams.

That is not a singular opinion either.

“A lot of it is unnecessary from a college basketball perspective,” Goodman said. “I understand why it was done, because a lot of people panicked — commissioners and whatnot. Again, I feel a lot of it didn’t need to happen.”

The major shake-ups in college basketball as of late have not been about age or eligibility of players, but rather the involve dynamic in which major conferences are realigning. Most of these moves were primarily football motivated — at this point what isn’t, but in the end it creates new wrinkles in terms of scheduling and sets up new rivalries. There is a positive.
Last fall the Pac-12 swung for the fences when Oklahoma was openly flirting with joining the other 12 schools to form the beginnings of a super conference. This came a summer after Texas was wooed by the then-Pac-10, to no avail. With Texas or Oklahoma on board and adding a great basketball and football program to complement USC, Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and the rest, the conference seemed to have been able to print money.

And that is what it is all about, making money.

When that first move failed with the Pac-10 missing on Texas, it poached Utah and Colorado anyway. It wasn’t the big sexy move that Texas would have been, but the Buffaloes did shake things up in the conference tournament in March, winning it as the fifth seed.

“The Pac-12 didn’t help itself a whole heck of a lot in all this,” said Goodman, an Arizona graduate. “It is really difficult to digest it all and see how it helped college basketball, because I don’t think it did.”

Goodman makes a good point there because the Pac-12′s move, for all the bluster added two schools whose hoops history has been largely forgettable (while allowing for Rick Majerus‘ era of success at Utah). That move set off a major shake-up across the country as the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M to the fold, teams whose middling football success spurred their above-average hoops traditions into a new league where they again, could stay in the middle of the pack. As for the Big 12, they replace their departed teams with Texas Christian and West Virginia. Good not great. The ACC has been the only conference whose moves have made sense as basketball decisions.

Ironically, this all started with Texas playing the “we are going to leave unless you meet our demands” card. In the end their demands were met by its Big 12 members and that “panic” Goodman referenced began by the Pac-12 adding two very modest basketball programs.

The changes are not all from BCS Conferences as San Diego State goes to the Big West, which again, puzzles Goodman: “I don’t know what San Diego State is going to do in the Big West, and it is certainly not going to help them in their sustainability as a Top 25 program.”

It is all a mess. The ACC now has 16 teams, the Big 12 with 10 teams (I don’t get it either), the Big East has 12 now, the Big Ten has 12 (again, do not ask), the Pac-12 with an even 12, and the SEC with 14. Conference poaching is all the rage, and Notre Dame’s leap extended the madness. The 2013-14 college basketball season will be about as different and unique as any before it.

What do you think?

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