The NCAA basketball tournament committee sure has a strange sense of humor. Or at least it has been gifted an amazing power to control coincidence.
Cincinnati is leaving the Big East conference after this year for a re-branded version of the league. For now we’ll call it the Big Whatever. Friday, the Bearcats play Big East-to-be Creighton in Philadelphia in a second-round game.
Marquette, which joined the Big East the same time UC did in 2005, will be staying in the reconfigured Big East. It plays future league brethren Butler, which is leaving the Atlantic 10 conference after one year, Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., in a third round tournament game.
My head hurts.
Conference realignment in college sports has been fueled by football but the start of this week’s NCAA basketball tournament has brought the issue to hoops’ forefront. Area teams are in the heart of the storm. Some having landed softly. Others remaining caught up in the turbulence.
Xavier, it was announced on Wednesday, will be joining Creighton and Butler in the new Big East after 18 years playing in the A-10. The 10-school league is a proactive move by its members to stabilize and strengthen themselves as the rest of the NCAA figures out who is playing in what conference and when it will be playing there.
“We know that the timing was something out of our control,” said Butler athletic director Barry Collier. “We also came into the league in part because of who was in the league and it was apparent that was going to change. One thing you do is you look forward to the opportunity that is at hand if you make the decision to join the Big East. The other part of the thought process is: you think about what happens if you don’t do it. What remains? It’s just a great opportunity and most everybody recognizes that.”
Along the wayside, however, is the A-10. Nine men’s teams from the league earned postseason basketball berths this year, including five in the NCAA bracket. Those schools are 4-0 through Thursday’s play but it’s tough to celebrate that success when three of those postseason teams won’t be in the league come this Fall. Besides Xavier and Butler exiting, it was previously announced that Temple will be joining UC in the Big Whatever, while Charlotte will be playing in a reconfigured Conference USA.
Where’s the Tylenol?
“NCAA Postseason is an exciting time not to be overshadowed by conference realignment,” said A-10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade in a statement released by the conference following the Big East announcement.
McGlade, the A-10 and all of the schools involved have handled the situation as professionally and sincerely as possible, by all accounts. The conference’s statement was gracious and congratulatory to Xavier and Butler while at the same time reaffirming the A-10’s commitment to be as strong an overall conference as possible.
That hasn’t left everyone reassured.
Dayton is the A-10 version of UC; a school in conference limbo. UD made it clear this week that it has no intention of being left behind to scramble for scraps.
“The University of Dayton will continue to aggressively pursue the best interests of the institution, our student-athletes, alumni, supporters and fans,” read a statement released by the UD administration. “The University is committed to being both a Catholic leader in higher education and fielding highly competitive athletic programs… The University of Dayton is committed to competing in a conference that provides a platform for success for all of our sports programs and, specifically, men’s basketball. University and athletics administration continue to make conference affiliation a top priority.”
The door to the new Big East won’t open for next season but that doesn’t mean the Flyers or other programs couldn’t be there in the future.
“We want to make sure we maintain all of the core principals we have now but obviously we’ll be open to expanding,” said Marquette athletic director Larry Williams on Thursday. “It isn’t something where we’ve said we’ve got to be here by this time. We’ll look at it but we want to be thoughtful to make sure that whatever we do it’s a continuation of the efforts that we’ve been pursuing so far, which is excellent development of student-athletes at the highest levels of basketball.”
This year’s Big East got eight bids to the NCAA. Of the eight, Marquette will be joined by Villanova and Georgetown as holdovers in the new Big East. Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse will be playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. UC and Louisville will be playing in the Big Whatever before the Cardinals bolt for the ACC in 2014-15.
Despite the uncertainty, the Big Whatever will be a formidable basketball league with Temple and Memphis, another team from this year’s NCAA field, not to mention Connecticut, which couldn’t go to the tournament because of NCAA academic sanctions, in its ranks.
I’m just going to need more pain killers to make sense of it all.