In news too widely reported not to be true, it looks like Xavier and Butler (thanks for swinging by the A-10, guys) will be joining the so-called Catholic Seven in a new, basketball-only Big East. I've been trying to contain myself during this process, but now that it looks like it's all coming together, I'm beyond excited. I think this is a massive step forward for a basketball program that has been making small, fairly unnoticed by the country at large, steps forward for years. Let's answer some of the questions you might have on your mind right now.
Is it really going to be called the Big East? What about the football schools? As per that article above, the new conference will be keeping the Big East name. That makes sense, because the BE was originally conceived as a basketball powerhouse, and the new conference will have more original BE members than any other conference left out there.
Speaking of "left out," what is going to happen to our friends at UC? According to ESPN, UC, UConn, and South Florida are the only remaining formerly Big East teams not committed to the Catholic Seven or another conference. When you look at some of the other teams coming into the fold (Tulane? SMU?) the new not-Big East is starting to look a lot like the Conference USA that Cinci left like so many rats off a sinking ship. Funny how that worked out.
Wait, doesn't that make nine teams? Yes, but moves are in the works to expand to an eventual total of ten or twelve. There's a possibility that Creighton could jump in for the league's inaugural season, but nothing firm towards those ends has been announced.
Will I finally be able to watch Xavier on TV? Probably. This likely lets Xavier out of the weird TV contract that had games scattered across four networks and some exclusive to only certain cable providers. The new league has a deal in place with FOX that could be announced as soon as Tuesday. This is going hand-in-hand with FOX launching their new sports network, so the only hitch will be finding out where that network lands on your cable provider's price sheet. If FOX is serious about competing with the big boys, though, I doubt it will be too premium a package. As an added bonus, Gus Johnson will be part of the FOX team, so it seems assured we'll get to here more of him.
Will this be lucrative for Xavier? Okay, you're probably not actually asking that, but I'm going answer it anyway: yes. X will have to pay a $2 million exit fee to leave the A-10, but the media deal will be worth at least $3 million per year. That's G-5 money, no more frequent flier miles for my boy Coach Mack (Les Grossman voice; don't click that link with children within earshot).
Will Xavier be playing in the Big East tournament in MSG? Yes, yes they will. It's not set in stone, but my sources (i.e., sportswriters who I can Google) all seem to be leaning in the direction that the Big East will keep MSG and the remaining member of the conference will have to look elsewhere to find a host for their tournament.
But the A-10 was just getting good; is this really going to be a step up? Yes. Check out the table below.
On the left are the top nine teams remaining in the A-10. On the right are the nine teams that will be in the Big East with Xavier. Both columns are sort by Pomeroy rating. The bottom three of the league are fairly even, with St. Bonnie being better than DePaul to give the A-10 an edge in that department. None of those teams are even sniffing an at-large bid, though; the measure of the leagues is the other six teams. The new Big East places three in the top 25 and all six in the top 60 as opposed to one and three for the remaining A-10. You could (rightly) point out that I've left Temple and Butler out of the remaining A-10, but that's because the wheels are already in motion. Xavier can't keep the A-10 intact in its current form, and doing nothing will lead to being the bully in a watered-down, one- or two-bid league. This chart also is not even taking into account increased media visibility, better coverage, and playing in larger markets. The level of play will be a step up for X, and the exposure will be a massive leap.
Does Xavier really want to get caught up in all the realignment? Hasn't the A-10 been a stable home? Yes, the A-10 has been stable, but it has also been a stable home for perennial bottom-feeders like Fordham and teams with high school gyms like La Salle (and Fordham). The realignment frenzy has been 99% about football teams; the Catholic Seven watched it gut their league and are finally tired of it. I think this basketball-only league has legs in terms of staying out of all that mess. The C7 commissioners have seen what happens when you let football drive the boat; having an elite, basketball-only league will be huge for everyone involved in terms of both national profile and long-term stability.
Like I said above, I'm beyond excited about this move, assuming there's not another twist in it. Xavier will be in a league with national coverage on a network building its programming around those games during the basketball season. A commenter over on Casual Hoya pointed out the potential for some great potential Big East/Big Ten Challenge matchups. There will be real officials, too! Get on board, gang; I think this move is going to be brilliant for Xavier.