ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Like a lot of Creighton fans, Jack Horgan has been wandering the streets of St. Louis these past few days in a New York State Of Mind.
“The Missouri Valley is awesome,” Horgan said, taking slow sips from a beer bottle as his Bluejays put the finishing touches on Drake in the quarterfinals of the 2013 MVC tournament. “No bad things to say.”
“But it’s simply an opportunity you cannot pass up,” Horgan said of the possibility of Creighton joining the new, revamped Big East Conference.
“You gotta go. You have to go.”
“Creighton doesn’t really have a choice, if they’re offered.”
Yes, these are conflicted, giddy times for Jays faithful, who’ve congregated by the thousands to the Gateway City for Arch Madness, their usual March pilgrimage, a blue army in beads and overalls. For four days, downtown St. Louis is Omaha East.
Creighton has won 11 MVC tourneys, more than twice that of any other current member school (Southern Illinois is next on the list, with five). If the Jays cut down the nets again, it’ll be their eighth Arch Madness title since 1999.
It might also be their last.
The Big East conference officially split into two camps Friday: Starting July 1, the “Catholic 7” cadre of basketball-first schools is headed one direction, taking the “Big East” name with them. Meanwhile, the football-playing schools are going the other direction, reportedly to be rechristened the “America 12,” a moniker that sounds more like a movie multiplex than a sporting collective.
The slimmer, hoops-first Big East is slated to launch in the fall with 10 members, possibly as many as 12. Creighton is expected to receive an invitation, part of an alleged short list that includes peer Midwest institutions such as Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis, and Butler. Six of the projected members of the rebranded Big East — half the loop — figure to be dancing in the NCAA tournament later this month. From the starting blocks, it’s going to be a powerhouse.
Officially, though, nothing is official yet — not from a membership standpoint, anyway.
So the Jays are milling about Scottrade Center, trying to act like it’s business as usual, even though everyone sort of knows it isn’t. MVC commissioner Doug Elgin, a good man at the head of a good, storied, stable league, has kept a brave face publicly even as the sharks continue to circle.
But there’s a little less spring to Elgin’s step than usual. He knows what’s coming. Everyone knows what’s coming.
Well, OK, almost everyone.
“Myself and my staff and my team are not on the need-to-know list,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott cracked the other day. “So there’s no chatter going on with us. We know nothing. … We haven’t been let in on that. Obviously, the chatter is out there, but it won’t impact our preparation.”
To be frank, it hasn’t affected the enthusiasm of Jays fans, either. After the Drake game, Alex Campbell, 26, of Omaha, stood outside of the arena wearing a replica Doug McDermott jersey, offering high-fives to any passer-by wearing Jays blue.
“You know what? When I picture Marquette and Georgetown coming to Omaha, I think, ‘holy (expletive), that would be huge,'” Campbell allowed. “In Omaha, when Wichita State comes to town, it’s like a huge, huge game. If we have those caliber of schools coming to town every other week, I think that would be huge.”
From a purely economic purview, it seems like a no-brainer. Creighton rakes in an estimated $350,000 or so annually in television revenue as part of the MVC; The renovated Big East will reportedly dole out roughly $3 million per year to each member school as part of its new broadcast partnership with FOX Sports.
But from a basketball perspective, a move isn’t without complications, potentially. It remains to be seen how well the Bluejays would go from being one of the biggest fish in a smallish pond to just another fish in a sea of hoops heavyweights.
Creighton reportedly spent $4.4 million on basketball in 2011, according to an Omaha World-Herald report; the average spending for “Catholic 7” schools over that same span was $7.5 million. A typical “Catholic 7” athletic department operated with a $27.5-million budget in 2011; the Jays were at $15.1 million, according to the newspaper.
The Catholic 7/Big East is likely to keep historic Madison Square Garden as its tournament home, which is a mixed blessing for Nebraskans used to chasing the Jays throughout the month of March. There’s the newness and obvious charms of the bright lights of the Big Apple, Broadway, The City That Never Sleeps. Then again, as of Friday, the cheapest round-trip flight between Omaha and New York’s La Guardia Airport between March 13-17, according to the website Travelocity.com, checked in at $695.30.
“We were just talking about that in the car ride down here,” said Tom Storm, Horgan’s cousin and another Creighton lifer. “Going to Madison Square Garden, don’t get me wrong, is going to be amazing. But you know, the first, what, five years, everybody’s going to go — it’s like, ‘Wow, New York, The Garden, come on Creighton!’
“And then after that, for me, I’m not going to be able to afford it. You drive down here, you’ve got to fly out there. I’m going to miss it.”
“I think it’ll be a culture shock,” Horgan added.
“The first few years are going to be really difficult,” Storm continued. “People are going to question if this move was the right move. … I think, overall, it’s going to be great for the school. It really is. I think they’re (initially) going to struggle and everyone’s going to look, that doesn’t know the school, and be like, why the hell is this team in the conference?'”
This year’s MVC tournament is the fifth Arch Madness junket for Storm, 31, and the sixth for Horgan, 23, who’s on track to graduate from Creighton’s law school in 2014. After watching the first half of the Jays-Drake tilt in person, he and Storm ducked out to catch the second half from the MVC Fan Hangout at the Sheraton St. Louis City Center Hotel, a bar/restaurant about a block south of the arena.
The Sheraton used to be the official Jays team hotel, and the Fan Hangout used to be a sports bar called Jacque’s, where the blue army liked to drink up and get down between game sessions.
Lots of history here, some of it unprintable, much of it, um — hazy.
“Nothing I can say,” Horgan cracked. “I was waaaay underage at that point.”
“There were some good times here,” Storm said. “It is sad.”
“No doubt about that,” Jack countered. “But whatever change happens, you’re going to feel nostalgic about something, you know? I mean, it’s something Creighton has to do.”
With that, Horgan took another sip and grinned, a silent toast to the future. Like the song goes, if Jays fans can make it there, they’ll make it anywhere.