The Catholic 7's formation is being driven by Georgetown President John DeGioia, according to the Washington Post's John Feinstein. He wound up in control of the situation, because "according to those who know, in large part because of a lack of interest" from the other C7 presidents.
That tidbit of information gives a good glimpse into how the new conference will take shape -- in the image of it's creators. Far from taking a collaborative or leadership role, all but one of the seven school presidents have been content to take a back seat in the decision-making process for their athletics programs.
What a young, upstart conference needs, however, is leadership. Perhaps DeGioia -- one of only two lay-Presidents among the seven -- will offer that leadership in its early stages, but one can't help but think that a strong and creative athletics-first leader would be of greater help. In other words, they need a commissioner.
The Post reports that DeGioia likes George Mason University Athletic Director Tom O'Connor for that role. He has been the head of athletics at the CAA school for the past 19 years and has just one more year left on his contract. He coached basketball at Dartmouth and Loyola before moving behind the desk and he has also had a seat on the NCAA tournament selection committee -- as it's chairman.
O'Connor has denied any connection to the Catholic 7 at this point, but hasn't completely denied that he would have interest in the position.
Whoever the C7 line up, they should make it a top priority. Other than a television contract, which a very generous FOX Sports network seems set to provide, the league will need some quality basketball imports to boost the collective RPI of the league, and raise it's profile nationally.
The brand names of the seven Big East schools are a good start, but the league will need more selling power, and more-importantly, they will need winners on the basketball court if they want to get into the discussion with the major conferences.
Those factors are why it is shocking to read in the Washington Post that the league would consider adding the University of Detroit Mercy, or Siena, both named by Feinstein as options to fill out the eastern and midwestern wings. He also writes that, "[i]n all likelihood, four schools are virtual locks to be invited: Dayton, Xavier, Saint Louis and Butler," but Creighton is probably not.
Feinstein claims that the schools consider Creighton's home of Omaha, Nebraska just too far away for their non-revenue sports. Detroit Mercy is much closer to the midwestern branch of the C7, of course, but unlike the Blue Jays, the Titans aren't as strong an athletic department. Siena, meanwhile, plays in a larger-capacity arena in Albany, New York and has made four NCAA Tournament appearances since 2000, but their readiness to compete above the MAAC level needs to be questioned, as does their brand value and television market.
Siena won tournament games in 2008 (upsetting Vanderbilt and being knocked out by Villanova) and in 2009 (upsetting Wake Forest), but none of their cinderella moments were much more than fleeting. The Saints have never been past the Round of 32.
The league, which reportedly reached out to Memphis about joining for everything but football, needs to organize itself and it's priorities. "Institutional fit" surely matters when building a conference, but that fit is not necessarily a mold of "small and Catholic. Geography is a factor, but it should not be an insurmountable one. Filling a conference with programs that won't improve the leagues' chances of postseason berths and success will dilute and diminish what the Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and other Catholic 7 brand-names bring to the table.
Key here is that there seems to be a number of rumors abounding regarding future C7 membership. The league itself is still in the primordial ooze of formation, however, and undoubtedly a long list of names has been produced and investigated internally. Feinstein's sources on these potential members may be golden, or it may be more speculative than that. Either way, the league can't swing and miss on membership decisions -- not after criticizing the Big East for bringing in Tulane.
College basketball power and prestige are built in March, and a league that is serious about having it will make that a primary consideration.
Update 8:30pm - Siena's AD has denied the above reports.