By Mitch Light
Conference realignment is being driven by football. That is undeniable. And for the most part, college basketball will suffer. We are losing the twice-annual Border War between Kansas and Missouri. We are losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament — and gaining schools like SMU, UCF and Houston.
But finally, we are seeing some moves that will actually improve the college basketball landscape. First, Memphis was added to the Big East for all sports beginning in 2013. This proud program has dominated Conference USA in recent years and will bring a national brand to the Big East. And then, on Wednesday morning, the league extended an invitation to A-10 power Temple, which will be making its 30th NCAA Tournament appearance this season — most for any school not currently in a Big Six power conference.
This most recent move was done to give the Big East eight football-playing schools for the 2012 season after West Virginia bailed for the Big 12 earlier than expected. It’s a good move for Big East football (Temple has improved dramatically since being kicked out of the league after the ’04 season). But it’s a great move for Big East basketball.
This storied league has taken a few hits in recent years. Expansion has watered down the product. Yes, Louisville and Marquette are quality programs who are consistently in the NCAA Tournament. But South Florida, DePaul and Rutgers have done nothing to improve the overall quality of play in the league.
The impending loss of both Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC will be a crushing blow. These are two outstanding programs that have routinely competed for league championships. Pitt is suffering through a rare down season — the Panthers will miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001 — but Syracuse is as good as ever, with a current No. 2 national ranking.
The recent wave of Big East expansion resulted in the addition of SMU, Houston and UCF for football and basketball and San Diego State, Boise State and Navy for football only. This news, to no one’s surprise, was not greeted too fondly by the league’s basketball fans. SMU, Houston and UCF hardly even move the needle in their own markets, let alone the Northeast, home to the majority of the league’s teams.
Now, however, some good news. Memphis and Temple are outstanding programs that will add some intrigue to Big East basketball. We are still stuck with SMU, UCF and DePaul (to name a few), but we can now look forward, beginning in the 2013-14 season, to some great matchups in the future. Memphis vs. Louisville (or Cincinnati) on Big Monday will be appointment viewing. As will Temple vs. Villanova or Georgetown.
The Big East can never go back to its glory days of the 1980s and 1990s when Georgetown, St. John’s and Syracuse created some of the great matchups in the game. But the league is still very good — and it just got better with the addition of Temple.