ESPN reported Thursday that the basketball-only “Catholic 7” schools that are leaving the Big East will add Butler and Xavier, and perhaps Creighton next season, with SLU and Dayton joining the following season.
That scenario would be fine for the Billikens, but if a CBSSports.com report that the seven defecting Big East teams…Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and DePaul…would just add Butler and Xavier and stop at nine teams is true, THAT would be devastating to the Billiken program.
Getting away from Atlantic 10 conference foes like Fordham, St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts and Rhode Island would be a huge plus for Saint Louis. Savings on travel costs would be huge, getting away from lesser programs that have no chance of becoming rivals would benefit all sports teams, and leaving behind a less than hospitable conference leadership would obviously work in SLU’s favor.
In addition, renewing rivalries with former Conference USA partners Dayton, Marquette and DePaul would provide natural geographic conflicts. Keeping Butler and Xavier adds two more natural series. A twelve team Big East of the seven defectors along with Butler, Xavier, Creighton, Dayton and SLU would be nearly perfect. They’re all basketball-only schools with the same approach and ideals as SLU.
However, if the new Big East DOES stop at nine teams, as CBS suggests, SLU would be stuck in a conference in which their two best and biggest natural rivals-Xavier and Butler-would be gone. The closest rival would be Dayton, but the Bills women’s basketball, volleyball, baseball, soccer and field hockey teams would still be travelling to places like Charlotte, Duquesne, UMass, George Washington, Fordham and St. Bonaventure. Those schools, as a group, are simply not a good fit geographically for Saint Louis University. Losing Butler and Xavier would certainly take its toll on television rights fees for the A-10, not to mention those programs’ effect on the Billikens’ strength of schedule in men’s basketball.
Several years back, we got worked up about where Mizzou might land after the Big 10 expanded with just Nebraska. At one point, there were rumblings of Mizzou being left out of expansion, in a dead-in-the-water Big XII, moving to the Mountain West. They obviously landed in a great conference in the SEC. It’s reasonable to get worked up about the Billikens’ situation now. With where they are as a program, they NEED the new Big East to take them in. If they must stick with the A-10, it could have devastating consequences both on and off the court and field.
Let me add a qualification here. If the Bills don’t make the cut in the new conference, perhaps there would be room for expansion of the Missouri Valley Conference. If SLU and Dayton are available, would it make sense for the St. Louis based Valley to add the St. Louis and Dayton markets?
It should be an interesting year. Saint Louis University has done everything it can in men’s basketball to be included in the new conference. But if that group of schools wants to cut the pie into only nine slices rather than twelve, that’s their prerogative. Hopefully there are options for SLU, because staying in an A-10 that doesn’t include Xavier and Butler is untenable.