Jays’ move to Big East is a financial slam dunk

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.
 
You can follow Sean Keeler
on Twitter @seankeeler
or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com