Realignment takes center court
Where's my school? Big East leads changes to conference lineups
Quick, what conference is Syracuse in? Too easy? Name the eight schools joining Conference USA and for bonus points which three schools are leaving after one season? We'll wait so you can start a list.
Conference realignment is at the point where it could be a category on Jeopardy! The $2,000 answer could be about the Western Athletic Conference and naming the seven schools that left and the six that are replacing them this season. Worth more like $5,000, huh, Alex?
Only nine of the 32 Division I conferences will not have any changes this season or next. Some are just adding a team or two while some are making wholesale changes that have traditionalists shaking their heads.
Life will go on but it will be hard to lose Syracuse-Georgetown as a conference showdown. No more Creighton-Wichita State battles to stay at the top of the Missouri Valley.
The biggest changes come in the Big East, which saw the seven basketball-only schools leave and then add Butler, Xavier and Creighton. The Big East football schools found homes in a few different leagues. Most are in the brand new American Athletic Conference, which has Louisville, the defending national champion, but for just one season before the Cardinals head to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Rutgers is in the American, too, but it's gone after one year to the Big Ten, which will also be joined that season by Maryland from the ACC.
Got all that?
Jim Boeheim, who spent all but three of his 37 years as head coach at Syracuse in the Big East, said you don't have to wait long for the new rivalries to be just like the current ones and those before them.
"Any time you're in a league, there's always going to be fierce rivalries because you're all competing for something that everybody wants," the Naismith Hall of Famer said.
He pointed out that before the Big East came to be, St. Bonaventure was the big game on Syracuse's schedule. Then it became Georgetown and Connecticut. Now it will be North Carolina and Duke. The second of those matchups will have Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest Division I coach of all-time with 957 wins, facing Boeheim, second on the list with 920.
Boeheim said it was "absolutely the right time" for the Orange to make the conference switch.
"It's really not a difficult transition because the old Big East wasn't there," Boeheim said earlier this month. "It had changed so dramatically. People don't realize the league changed so dramatically over the years -- in, out, back and forth ... I mean, there's a certain degree of nostalgia about not being in that league because that's where you were for 34 years. But this is a better league."
Good starting point to that argument.
The ACC added Notre Dame and Pittsburgh in addition to Syracuse, and that should have it on top of the conference rankings. Where the Big East fits in will take a little while as Villanova, Marquette, Georgetown and the others welcome in the three new schools. The American gets an old rivalry with Memphis and Louisville bringing people back to the days of the Great Midwest.
"It's great having them this year," American commissioner Mike Aresco said of Louisville. "Having them in our conference will give every other school the chance to play to that level, the chance to get that exposure that's generated because of Louisville. When they leave, I think we have people that can pick up the slack that maybe a year ago people didn't think we did."
That will be East Carolina, Tulane, Tulsa and Western Kentucky but there's so much going on this year let's not look ahead.
UTEP will see a lot of change as a member of Conference USA and coach Tim Floyd looked at what all the realigning really means.
"Well, our history, our roots go back to the Rocky Mountains [teams like New Mexico, Colorado State, Air Force, UNLV] so the first thing, we all have to worry about is the stockholders, and that's the fans that are buying the tickets," he said at the conference media day. "So it's an education process -- new logos, new mascots, what are the colors of the schools, who are these people, histories, who are the good players that have come out of these schools.."
It's all going to take a while to sort out. Some conferences, like the Northeast, lost schools (Monmouth and Quinnipiac to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) but didn't replace them.
"I'll admit I didn't sleep all summer because of this," NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said. "But we had a plan, a long-range plan we had just put in. We weren't going to add unless it was a value add. A lot of people wanted us to go out and replace them no matter what. There are a lot of people who think if you aren't moving you're going backward but that's not true."
Norris said realignment isn't over. Far from it.
"Just like there are coaches looking for a better job, so are there athletic directors and presidents looking for that next step, that next level," she said. "It's human nature to keep looking to improve yourself to get to that next level."