ST. LOUIS — The seven Catholic schools in the Big East officially announced their intentions to break away from the rest of the conference Friday, fueling rumors and speculation about what will happen next.
And Saint Louis University finds itself right in the middle of it.
When news broke of Marquette, St. Johns, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova and DePaul’s decision to depart, Saint Louis was among the first schools named as a possible fit in their new conference.
The seven departing schools are expected to form their own league and invite at least three schools to join them. Xavier and Butler have widely been rumored to the most likely to receive the first two invitations. The third team could be Saint Louis.
The Billikens fit the profile — a Catholic Jesuit school without a football program — and would expand the new league’s footprint west into a decent-sized television market in St. Louis.
Asked Saturday night during the Billikens’ 73-51 win over Tennessee-Martin, SLU athletics director Chris May said he’s yet to have any contact with members of the departing schools.
“At this point no,” May said. “At this point were focused on how we can continue to help the A-10 and the A-10 is positioned well. We feel strongly about the Atlantic 10 and how it’s taken its next steps with Butler and VCU while at the same time we feel good about where we’re positioned nationally.
“We’ve made significant investments in growing our basketball program and our athletic program so we feel good about where we are. We also feel good about the Atlantic 10 and where it sits.”
When asked if he’d be interested in talking with those schools, May said, “I think we’ll be closely watching the national landscape and we’ll be engaged in the conversations.”
SLU would have plenty of competition for an invite to join the new league. Catholic school Dayton, also currently in the Atlantic 10, figures to be a strong candidate. Creighton and even Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have been rumored to be possible fits as well.
It could come down to whether or not the new league decides to have ten or 12 teams. Ten would work better for scheduling — they could have a round robin schedule and play each team at home and on the road — while also keeping the number of teams splitting the revenue shares lower. Twelve teams would allow the league to gain a wider footprint while possibly allowing for bigger television contracts.
It would be hard to see Saint Louis not getting an invite should the league decide to go to 12 teams. If they cap it at ten, Dayton could join Xavier and Butler in getting invitations ahead of SLU.
“It’s clearly interesting times in our industry right now,” May said. “There’s a lot of change going on and we feel good about where we sit right now. It’s always fascinating as you watch everything unfold but clearly we feel good about where we stand today and we feel good about our future and well continue to focus on that.”
Asked if he was interested in the possibility of joining such a league, May said only, “We’re interested in the A-10 continuing to grow and get better. We’re also interested in our program continuing to grow and get better.”
The student section and SLU pep band chanted, “Catholic Conference!” repeatedly during Saturday’s game before school administration asked the band to refrain from the chants during the second half.
Students seem in favor of the possible move.
“It seems like an interesting idea, just the fact that a lot of those schools don’t have football and us being a Catholic Jesuit institution,” said SLU student Brett Little. “Joining a bunch of schools from the Big East could be a big turnaround for the recruits we get. A lot of people would want to play against those types of high-level schools. It would be good for the school.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I think it’s got a lot of benefits overall.”
Details of the new league and the possible teams will continue to emerge in the coming days. And Saint Louis University figures to stay right in the middle of all the talk.