Is SLU ready for conference realignment?

December 14, 2012

Back in 2003 in the midst of conference realignment, Saint Louis University decided it was in the school's best interest to transfer from Conference USA to the Atlantic 10, leaving many to wonder if it was the best move for the future.

That future is now.

There were several reasons why the Billikens decided against the more geographic-friendly Missouri Valley Conference in favor of cross-country A-10 ventures, including East Coast exposure and overall improved athletic competition.

But another main reason SLU chose the A-10 was because it allowed the university to best position itself if ever there was the possibility of joining a power conference. At the time, there was a genuine fear that if Saint Louis joined the MVC, there was a good chance it would never get out.

With the recent reports that DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. Johns and Villanova are breaking away from the Big East to set up a basketball only power conference, this appears to be the exact situation Saint Louis set itself up for almost 10 years ago.

The opportunity to jump to the next level could be in place, but is Saint Louis in a position to capitalize? There are many questions that could be asked before assuming all would be perfect in a bigger and brighter conference.

Can SLU compete on a regular basis? Will the university provide the money needed to compete on a national stage? Is the proper leadership in place? What happens if SLU is left standing alone after the dust from realignment settles?

When looking at the finances involved in joining forces with the seven Catholic Big East defectors, Saint Louis faces a large decision. Sure, it would be a step forward in terms of credibility, national exposure and the revenue included. But in order to move forward, SLU must first take a big financial step backward.

To even start the process, SLU would face an exit fee from the A-10. Currently, that would run the school $2 million if it were to leave within one year. This would be a minor setback, though, due to the likely increase from the current $400,000 A-10 TV revenue deal that would offset the exit fee almost immediately.

Last year, Saint Louis University spent $3.1 million on its men's basketball program and produced a revenue of roughly $3.5 million. Those are insignificant numbers compared to the seven schools breaking away, which, when combined, have average expenses of $7.55 million and average revenues of $8.44 million.

Of the schools leaving, Providence ($6.1 million), Seton Hall ($6.4 million) and DePaul ($6.6 million) spent the least amount of money on men's hoops. Those three schools spent nearly double what SLU puts into men's basketball, yet they all were perennial cellar dwellers in the conference.

Marquette ($9.9 million) and Georgetown ($10 million) were the big spenders of the departing schools. This could be seen as justifiable due to their achievements on the hardwood. Both are annually dancing in March, and both have massive fan support.

Want an even more impressive number? Last season, Marquette generated $14.39 million in revenues from the basketball program alone. That is more than what Saint Louis spent on all of its athletic programs combined.

These guys don't mess around when it comes to athletics, and money is rarely an issue. As the late Rick Majerus often mentioned, Saint Louis doesn't even use a chartered plane for weeknight road games halfway across the country.

And don't forget, at the end of this season, the Billikens will presumably be looking for a new head coach. If they want to make a splash in a new conference, they will need to make a significant hire. With a significant hire comes a significant paycheck.

If Saint Louis were to get the call to join forces with the other Catholic schools, could it make that kind of financial commitment?

It is common knowledge that the ultimate decision on virtually every issue at Saint Louis comes down to one man: the institution's president, Rev. Lawrence H. Biondi.

If ever there were a bad time for an athletic decision of this magnitude to arise, this would be it.

Father Biondi is currently waging a battle on the academic side because of the university faculty's "vote of no confidence," which has led to student protests and numerous calls for his resignation.

A report filed to the board of trustees on the state of the university included current faculty questioning Biondi's leadership in terms of mishandling of finances, failure to adequately support academics and unprofessional conduct, among other things.

With all that Biondi currently has on his plate, would he be able to give his complete focus to issue a decision that's best for athletics?

So many questions, not enough answers. … Welcome to the current state of conference realignment, Saint Louis University.