The Bluejays are cashing in on their invitation to the Big East, but is the big payday worth it?
By SEAN KEELER FS Midwest
KANSAS CITY, MO - Creighton had millions of reasons to join the Big East. Three million, to be exact.
The Missouri Valley Conference's annual television rights payout, per school, is in the $300,000-$350,000 range. The new Big East is reportedly doling out roughly $3 million per program.
Show me an athletic director who turns his nose up at a 900 percent budget increase, and I'll show you a fool. In the debate of dollars and sense, cash talks. Tradition walks.
Financially, it was a slam dunk.
From a men's basketball perspective, though? It's a 3-pointer, fresh off the release, hanging in the air.
It could swish. It could bank in. Or it could hit the front of the rim and carom to God knows where.
If there's a risk, however slight, in Wednesday's announced departure from the Valley, it's that. Even in the throes of honeymoon bliss, the most ardent of Bluejays fan won't deny it.
Kicking sand in the face of Evansville and Missouri State is one thing. Pulling that stunt on a Georgetown and a
Butler, well — that's another matter entirely.
In the MVC, Creighton was the benchmark, the biggest draw, the tiger shark in a league of king mackerels. In the Big East, you're swimming with other sharks. Keep moving, keep aggressing, or die. Your choice.
Creighton reportedly spent $4.4 million on basketball in 2011, according to an Omaha World-Herald report; the average spending for its new "Catholic 7" peers over that same stretch 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. To play with the big boys, you've got to spend like the big boys.
In the MVC, the Jays' nearest rival, Drake, was just two hours away by car. In the Big East as it's currently configured, the next nearest school is
DePaul in Chicago, which is a drive of six-and-a-half and change, if you book it.
The Big East may be good for Creighton fans' collective egos, but it's going to wind up being hell on their tires. Like West Virginia in the Big 12, the Jays are an outlier now, only a western outlier in an East-centric league.
And it's going to be a whale of a hoops league, too. Half the 10-Big-East-to-be member schools are dancing in Bracketville this week, a ratio that's expected to continue, if not improve. Then, as now, if you're among the top half in the Big East, you've got the postseason chops. Then, as now, it means something.
The trick, of course, is staying there.
Butler jumped from the Horizon League to the Atlantic-10 and didn't miss a beat. Ditto for Virginia Commonwealth when it moved from the Colonial to the A-10. In 2005, DePaul, which played in 16 NCAA tournaments between 1975-2004, hopped from Conference USA to the Big East. The
Blue Demons promptly sank like a stone.
But if you asked 10 university presidents, 11 would've given the same answer that Creighton's Rev. Timothy Lannon did. Heck, they couldn't have signed the dotted line fast enough.
Proponents would argue that the Jays simply outgrew the Valley, the way Butler outgrew the Horizon and VCU outgrew the CAA. While Creighton never came close to matching the postseason runs of the
Bulldogs and Rams, their faithful certainly made a case at the gate: With their state-of-the-art CenturyLink Center buffering the Omaha skyline, the Jays have ranked among the NCAA's Top 25 in attendance for seven straight years. Within the rest of the MVC, only Wichita State has routinely averaged as many as 10,000 fans per contest.
No, this wasn't so much about what the Valley couldn't give Creighton as what the Big East could. A big network (FOX), access to the biggest population centers in the country (New York, Philly, D.C.), a big tournament venue (Madison Square Garden), big everything. If it's a question of making a weekend of it in Carbondale or Cincinnati, that's really not much of a debate, is it?
Besides, there are other rhubarbs in Jays circles, once the confetti clears, not the least of which involve the McDermotts, and what fallout (if any) this gambit has on them. Doug, the Jays' junior All-American forward, is widely expected to forgo his senior season and declare for the NBA Draft; he's projected, at the worst, as a late first-round selection, where the money is guaranteed. His father, Greg, has a stellar resume within the Valley, winning multiple league titles as the coach at Creighton and at Northern Iowa — but his previous Bowl-Championship-Series-level experience, with Iowa State, was a six-megaton migraine.
In eight seasons-plus in the MVC, McDermott sports a career record of 161-92, or a .636 winning percentage. With the
Cyclones, he was 59-68 (.465), where he inherited a mess and got sidetracked by injuries, transfers, chemistry issues and character questions over the course of four unremarkable years.
Although his roster featured future NBA Draft picks in Wesley Johnson and Craig Brackins — Iowa State had talent, McDermott knew talent — there were questions as to whether Mac had the patience, or the flexibility, to deal with all the baggage and B.S. that sometimes came with it. After Dana Altman finally left Omaha for Oregon, McDermott seized the opportunity, jettisoning Ames to parachute back into a comfort zone, a move that benefited both he and Iowa State, long-term.
The elder McDermott is a Valley man, a UNI grad with Valley roots. When he signed up with Creighton, he didn't sign up for this.
The question is not whether Mac can recruit against the likes of a Marquette or a Xavier. The question is whether or not he wants to. That 3-pointer always feels good the minute it leaves your hands. Ask us in 10 years if it was the right shot to take.