One of the unfortunate truths of the latest wave of conference realignment is the overwhelming focus on football.
As a result, basketball and other sports have been of secondary concern in some circles. In others, such as at Butler and VCU and in the Horizon, Colonial and Ohio Valley, basketball is the primary engine of revenue. Almost every league in some way has been impacted by the dominoes of realignment.
In 2012-13, we’ll see a handful of moves such as Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12, and Butler and VCU to the Atlantic 10. By 2013-14, more major dominoes fall in the ACC, Big East and Conference USA.
If you can keep up, we’ll try to assess the major college basketball realignment winners and losers for the next two seasons.
We're fans: Conference realignment winners
ACC. The addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh in 2013-14 might not bring much sizzle to the football product, but the Orange and Panthers give the ACC the nation’s best basketball league (a distinction that probably stays with the Big East had Syracuse and Pitt stayed put). Since 2004-05, the last time the ACC expanded, Syracuse and Pitt have reached the Tournament a combined 13 times while Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech have done so a combined five times since joining the ACC. With Syracuse and the possibility of playing the ACC Tournament at Madison Square Garden, the ACC gains a foothold into Northeastern markets and recruiting territory, which could be a boon for programs for Maryland, NC State and others.
Memphis and Temple. Let’s face it: Memphis and Temple won’t adequately replace Syracuse and Pitt, but when the Big East called, the Tigers and Owls had little choice but to accept the invitation for 2013-14. Memphis had hoped for Big East inclusion for years. Temple is a great geographic fit, but the Owls had little trouble reaching the NCAA Tournament from a quality conference in the A-10. It’s a jump in prestige for Temple but also a jump in competition level.
Mountain West. The football side has lost BYU, TCU and Utah and will lose Boise State and San Diego State in 2013-14. Other than BYU and San Diego State, none of those programs have been consistent on the basketball court since 2006. In 2012-13, the Mountain West adds Nevada, which won 28 games last season and made four consecutive Tournament appearances from 2004-07, and Fresno State. In 2013-14, the league adds Utah State, which has won at least 20 games in 13 consecutive seasons. Perhaps this is an even trade, which considering what’s going on in other conferences, that’s a victory.
Ohio Valley Conference. The OVC added just one team for 2012-13, Belmont, but the Bruins are a logical addition. Located a few miles from OVC headquarters outside of Nashville, Belmont is perfect fit in the league’s regional footprint. And with the Bruins’ recent record of success (164-68 in the last seven seasons), they’ll bring the OVC more quality league games against Murray State, Austin Peay and Morehead State.
Charlotte. The 49ers never really fit in the Atlantic 10, where they went 48-64 in the conference in seven seasons. Conversely, Charlotte reached the NCAA Tournament in seven of its last nine seasons in Conference USA, including five times as an at-large bid -- and that was when Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Memphis were in the league. Charlotte returns to C-USA in 2013-14 to a weakened league.
Give us time: Conference realignment incomplete grades
Syracuse. Jim Boeheim was lukewarm to the idea of Syracuse basketball in the ACC, and so are we. With Syracuse on board, the ACC should be the nation’s top basketball league, but at what cost? Games against Duke and North Carolina will be must-see, but so were matchups with Georgetown, UConn and others. Unlike Pittsburgh and West Virginia, Syracuse shouldn’t suffer much of a recruiting drop off in moving from the Northeastern base. The most obvious drawback is playing conference tournament games in North Carolina (or other Southern locales) rather than Madison Square Garden.
SEC/Missouri/Texas A&M. This move could take some time to evaluate. The SEC added two good, but not great, programs for 2012-13. The Tigers and Aggies have made a combined 10 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2006, but they each advanced to the second weekend only once in that span. The SEC adds two programs that should boost the league’s depth, but Missouri loses rival Kansas and A&M loses matchups with Texas for the time being. For fans, this might be a loss.
We’re not sold: Conference realignment losers
Pittsburgh. What’s good for the ACC might not be good for Pittsburgh. The Panthers could lose recruiting avenues into the Northeast, which provided Pitt with Ashton Gibbs, Travon Woodall, Brad Wanamaker, Levance Fields, Aaron Gray and Carl Krauser. The Panthers will have to hope the prospect of competing against Duke and North Carolina helps to overcome fewer trips to New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Big East. Any basketball conference can’t lose West Virginia (in 2012-13), Syracuse and Pittsburgh (in 2013-14) and be better for it, especially when taking on basketball dead weight like Houston, SMU and UCF. Memphis and Temple, who arrive in 2013-14, should compete instantly and give the league rivalry games with Louisville and Villanova, but replacing Syracuse’s games with Georgetown and Connecticut with games in Texas and Florida won’t help the basketball product.
Villanova. The Big East’s standing drops as whole, but Villanova probably has the most to lose as an individual program. The Wildcats can’t be excited that Philly rival Temple will be in the same conference. Could Temple make up ground on the recruiting trail as a result?
Big 12. The Big 12 isn’t struggling in realignment quite like the Big East is but trading Missouri and Texas A&M for West Virginia and TCU is a downgrade, thanks to the Horned Frogs’ eight losing seasons in the last 10. Now detached from the Big East, West Virginia may have trouble recruiting the New York area, which provided the core of the Mountaineers’ Final Four team in 2010.
San Diego State. Just when the Aztecs’ basketball program was just starting to get interesting, San Diego State downgrades conferences from the Mountain West to the Big West in 2013-14. Other than providing the distinction of placing teams both in the Big West and the Big East, San Diego State has little to brag about in this move. The Aztecs trade UNLV and New Mexico for Long Beach State and UCSB. At the same time, Steve Fisher just starting to bring in top recruits such as Kawhi Leonard and Winston Shepard. Will recruits sign on to play in what’s likely a one-bid league?
State of Texas. The Longhorns’ situation won’t change. Texas A&M’s move to the SEC is probably a wash, basketball-wise. And Texas Tech probably won’t be the worst team in the Big 12 anymore (thanks, TCU!). Other than that, basketball in the Lone Star State is going to struggle. TCU, Houston and SMU all look to be buried in their new leagues. UTSA (Conference USA), UT Arlington and Texas State (Sun Belt) take their nondescript teams to tougher leagues. Meanwhile, the Southland, which has sent six consecutive Texas teams to the Tournament, will have a new top program -- from the state of Oklahoma when Oral Roberts joins in 2012-13.
Conference USA. In 2005, this league boasted Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Memphis in a strong basketball lineup. Memphis was the last to get the call from the Big East, leaving C-USA without a dominant program starting in 2013-14. The league will cobble together Charlotte from the A-10, FIU and North Texas from the Sun Belt and Old Dominion from the CAA to replace Memphis, Houston, SMU and UCF in 2013-14. While the conference should be more balanced, all the headliners are gone.
Colonial Athletic Association. In losing VCU to the Atlantic 10 in 2012-13 and Old Dominion to Conference USA in 2013-14, the Colonial loses two programs that made seven of the conference’s 11 NCAA Tournament appearances since 2006. And it could have been worse. George Mason (three Tournament appearances and a Final Four since 2006) flirted with the A-10 before electing to stay. The CAA also loses Georgia State, which improved from 12 wins to 22 in the first season under Ron Hunter last year, to the Sun Belt in 2013-14. After sending three teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and two teams in in 2007 and 2006, this consistent mid-major will be a one-bid league hoping to stay in the top half of conference RPI.
Horizon League. Perhaps the situation isn’t as bad as you’d think for a conference that just lost Butler. Unlike other leagues, the Horizon didn’t deal with mass defections. Cleveland State, Milwaukee, Valparaiso and now Detroit under Ray McCallum will keep the top of the league interesting. That said, Butler accounted for 15 of the Horizon’s 19 NCAA Tournament wins over the last decade.
Belmont. If the goal is to reach the NCAA Tournament as often as possible, Belmont trades one single-bid conference (the Atlantic Sun) for a tougher single-bid conference (the OVC) in 2012-13. Belmont has won five of the last seven A-Sun Tournaments but will have trouble doing the same in the OVC. No OVC team has reached even consecutive conference tournament titles since Murray State won three in a row from 1997-99. The regular season and conference tournament will be more interesting and the travel costs will be lower in the OVC, but Belmont has a tougher road to the Tournament.
WAC. The basketball situation isn’t as dire as the one on the football side, where only two teams remain members. As it stands, the WAC’s basketball membership in 2013-14 will consist of Boise State, Denver, Idaho, New Mexico State and Seattle.