Expansion Apocalypse: CYO League Redux

The Big East conference announced the addition of new full-member institutions in Houston, Dallas and Orlando just two weeks ago, but the latest rumors of more exits have already emerged. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that two Big East member institutions have discussed the possibility of leaving the conference to found a basketball-centric league. The discussions reportedly haven't been very serious at this point, however.

There doesn't appear to be any move imminent, of course, and all schools have indicated to the league and to the public that they have been satisfied with the status of Big East expansion in the wake of the sudden departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

"Although they’ve had discussions [separately from the football schools], I’ve had no indication from any of them that they have serious desires to break away," league commissioner John Marinatto told the Chronicle.

"We certainly could have confronted in this moment an opportunity to break up the conference, and we emphatically made the decision to keep it together," Georgetown president John DeGioia added. "We had a full consensus that the best thing for our basketball programs would be to remain in complete alignment with the football programs."

Despite those statements, not everything in conference realignment has been entirely clear and fully honest. West Virginia appeared 100% on-board with the Big East rebuilding efforts while working the phones to find a way out. They later have used the rebuilding process as a grounds for being excused from their obligations under the conference bylaws.

According to the Chronicle, the two unnamed schools discussed what is being termed a "Super Basketball Conference," that would separate from the Big East and add schools like Butler, Temple and Xavier. Temple's inclusion would seem to indicate that Villanova is not one of the schools that has participated in this discussion and discussions with sources close to the situation at Villanova have consistently indicated that they currently prefer to associate with a conference that offers big time football.

Temple, for the record, would prefer to be part of an all-sports conference where they can provide a home for their football program as well. They would also be unlikely to make such a move in the short term unless a television deal was worth substantially more than the current Atlantic 10 deal.

The Chronicle's source indicated that the discussions weren't serious, but stated that he would be surprised if those schools didn't leave the Big East at some point. When will it happen? All the source offered was "eventually," suggesting that the basketball super conference move would require leadership to make it happen.

It likely requires more than that, however. Brand names and big TV markets are what draw television dollars, and any conference without TV revenue and exposure would be a flop and a massive step backwards for the basketball schools. If this seperatist movement weren't to gain the support of Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's or Notre Dame, would it have enough clout to be relevant? Even in bad years, these program offer enough name-brand to get on television more than the average. They also offer access to some of the best media markets in the country.

There's the real problem. Butler makes 10 national television appearances in the regular season this year, Seton Hall makes just 6. Would ESPN's interest in Butler extend far enough to increase the number of Seton Hall games they televise?

Villanova, meanwhile, will play no fewer than 18 games on national television this season. Broadcasters also load up on Georgetown, St. John's and Notre Dame games as well as the football schools. Louisville also makes about 18 national television appearances this season. With fewer programs that have proven to be attractive to television, the basketball conference doesn't seem as super.

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