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College Basketball's Latest Realignment: The Big East Split


With a new conference realignment announcement coming every week or two, the landscape is almost numb to the movement by now.

That is, until something happens like what's in the works in the Big East. The seven non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools likely will split from the league to form a basketball-first league, followed by more expansion.

The departure of the seven Catholic schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova — would be the biggest sea change in conference realignment since four teams left the Big 12 over the course of two seasons. While the Big 12 recovered as a 10-team league, the ripple effect from a split Big East will be felt a number of ways.

First, here’s what the Big East split will look like:

Basketball teams splitting

Seton Hall
St. John’s

Football/basketball programs remaining

Football-only programs
Boise State
East Carolina
Navy (2015)
San Diego State

Here are the key questions facing the latest realignment possibility:

Will this new league be successful?
As far as competition, a basketball league headlined by Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova would be a multi-bid league to the NCAA Tournament. St. John’s appears to be on the upswing under Steve Lavin, but the Red Storm have made only one appearance in the last decade. Some of the candidates for expansion (see below) will add to the depth of the league, but the top-10 programs like Syracuse, Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh are out. On its face, the new format would produce a balanced league, but it would lack the powerhouse programs the ACC (Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse), Big 12 (Kansas), Pac-12 (UCLA) and SEC (Kentucky) will have. The new league could expect to be somewhere between the fourth- and seventh-best conference in a particular year. However, the basketball-first, metropolitan-based nature of the conference could serve the league well.

Basketball realignment: Tracking all changes

Do the numbers add up?
That’s going to depend on the value of the biggest wild card, the television contract. The Atlantic 10’s latest contract was surprisingly low at $40 million over eight years ($350,000 per school per year). The Big East’s new TV contract (with the seven Catholic schools) could be between $60-100 million, according to CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. The basketball schools earned a substantial windfall from the football schools, but the gap between the extra revenue football provided and the headaches associated with changing membership and football-centric focus drove a rift within the league. With the Big East taking on basketball non-factors such as Houston, SMU, Tulane and UCF to replace Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the basketball product eroded.

Football realignment: Tracking all changes

Who else joins up?
The seven teams that split would likely expand further to a 10-team league. Already mentioned as possible targets fitting the profile would be teams like Butler, Dayton, Saint Louis, VCU and Xavier from the Atlantic 10, Creighton from the Missouri Valley, George Mason from the Colonial and even Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference.

Big East early season conference catchup and power rankings

Who is the biggest loser in this?
One of the founding members of the Big East, Connecticut, will be the last one standing in this scenario. The Huskies have been mentioned as a candidate for the ACC since conference realignment reignited with Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolting the Big East more than a year ago. When the ACC targeted a program to replace Maryland, which left for the Big Ten, the league selected Louisville over UConn. Now, UConn could be the last giant left in the Big East basketball lineup. If an ACC invitation never comes, UConn is looking at traveling an average of 1,203 miles to play a basketball game. In the Big East’s classic alignment in the 1980s, UConn traveled an average of 188 miles to each opponent. The retirement of Jim Calhoun, the architect of the program, has only added to the uncertainty for the Huskies.

Who keeps the Big East name?
The legal wrangling is sure to extend beyond the announcement of the split within the Big East. Not least of which is which entity retains the Big East name and the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden. The seven departing teams have the majority of votes now, outnumbering Cincinnati, Connecticut and USF and allowing the Catholic schools to dissolve the league, according to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil. The incoming members from Conference USA and the Mountain West do not having voting rights within the league. The Big East name and the tournament remain valuable commodities, the ownership of which may be settled through litigation.