Last March, I went to New York City to do something I had been meaning to do my whole life. You see, I was raised as an Ohio State football fan, but several members of my family attended Georgetown University and, as such, I was raised as a Hoya and Big East fan. So, in March, I got to live out one of my dreams of watching the Big East Tournament live from Madison Square Garden. It was a unique experience, as MSG is kinda-sorta a dump, and the sight lines aren't all great, and the place lacks the technology of more modern arenas. But it was still MSG for the Big East Tournament. And seeing Cincinnati defeat a one-loss Syracuse team in the semifinal (while sitting with and fighting with a large contingent of Orange fans) was a very cool sports moment for me.
It was soon after, however, that I realized I was watching the downfall of probably the best conference in the country.
The news came down on Saturday that the non-football members of the Big East (Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John's, Providence, DePaul and Seton Hall) decided to bolt from the conference they made one of the strongest in the country, leaving many questioning what will happen in the wake of the decision. Most realignment stories are considered with football running parallel; football brings in the TV and attendance dollars, and is, truthfully, a more important factor in realignment. But this move is different, because it will undoubtedly change the national college basketball landscape for the foreseeable future.
Directly affected by this sea change? The Ohio State Buckeyes.
Seven teams does not a basketball conference make, and the "Catholic Seven" know this all too well. So the Big East Break-offs will not be alone. While nothing is official, many reports have come out indicating that some teams within the Buckeye footprint may be joining this new league. Among them: Xavier, Dayton, and Butler. Dayton is about an hour away from Columbus, Xavier about 90 minutes, and Butler about three hours.
The distance from the Buckeye state's capital is important because Columbus has bred several prep stars who would go on to play in the NBA, including Lawrence Funderburke, Michael Redd, and most recently Jared Sullinger. All three played for the Buckeyes. While Thad Matta has been able to recruit outside the 614 (Deshaun Thomas is from Indiana, LaQuinton Ross is from Mississippi, etc.) he has always had a foothold locally and within the state when he needed to tap that talent base.
But if these three teams, Dayton, Xavier and Butler, are indeed headed to arms with the Catholic Seven, there's a strong argument that some of those big name prep players might look elsewhere.
Matt noted yesterday that the new basketball conference would be statistically one of the strongest in the country by quite a bit of distance. Adding the likes of Dayton and Xavier, perennial tournament teams, and Butler, who almost won consecutive national championships, would only add to that strength. If some of the other reports are true, the additions of Creighton, St. Louis and even Gonzaga (!!) would only add fuel to that fire.
Now, instead of picking the football school with a great basketball program, prep stars might opt to go to the basketball school where they will truly be the BMOC. Thomas and Sullinger would have been the most popular athletes in town last year had they gone to a different school. Instead, they were still second fiddle to the beloved quarterback of a 6-7 football team.
Add to that the fact that Big East basketball has always been about the coaches, and in the new league, prep players will have the opportunity to learn under some of the nation's best. The Big Ten has great coaches - Matta and Tom Izzo chief among them. But the Big East counters with the likes of John Thompson III at Georgetown, Jay Wright at 'Nova, Steve Lavin at St. John's, Brad Stevens at Butler, and Chris Mack at Xavier. Those last two are two of the biggest up and comers in the sport, and if this conference comes together, there won't be bigger jobs to which these coaches could bolt. They could be there for a long, long time. Even as college basketball players are spending less and less time on campus, continued coaching prowess might lead some to keep playing.
I'm of the opinion that realignment is good. The storied tradition of Big East basketball was bound to end at some point, and this is likely that point. What's more, this new conference, should everything shake out the way it looks like it will, is going to provide some incredible basketball in a few years. Surely this is good for the country, and good for the sport.
But it might make things just a little bit more difficult for Matta and the Buckeyes.