With Connecticut joining Big East Basketball, there could be additional expansion for the conference. Let’s take a look at what other teams they could look to add in the future.
Dominating the recent college basketball news cycle is the announcement that Connecticut will return to Big East Basketball in 2020 after spending seven years in the AAC. For some, the news does not come as a great surprise, returning the Huskies to the league where Jim Calhoun built a national power in the early 2000’s. While this move seems to disregard the Huskies football program, it does mean good news for the Big East and the school as a whole.
The news of expansion brings the number of Big East Schools up to 11 while taking one of the most historically talented programs out of the AAC. There is not expected to be another announcement about expansion, and the Big East could propose a 20-game round robin conference schedule, bringing balance to the conference. However, there definitely remains the potential for the Big East to add another member, bringing them to an even 12 teams.
Expansion for the Big East is tricky these days, since the conference no longer sponsors football. Connecticut’s regard for their football program notwithstanding, it’s very unlikely that new Big East programs have a football team. Schools like Cincinnati or Memphis that would seem to be great basketball fits would not work, since they’d be abandoning the AAC but have nowhere for their football programs to move.
Despite this, there remains a pretty decent group of schools that would make a fine addition to the Big East. Obviously, the conference could stay at 11 teams and still be an extremely talented conference. They already add Connecticut to a group that includes Villanova, Marquette, and Butler, perennial postseason stalwarts. We’re going to isolate five potential additions to the Big East, looking at positives and negatives to each of their inclusions. There may be no perfect answer, but there’s certainly some good choices out there.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the five potential Big East additions.
Seven years ago, the Big East nearly added the Cougars as a football-only member. All these years later, they would make sense as an addition for the opposite reason. BYU has an FBS football program, but plays in the WCC; their football team is an independent. Any move that the Cougars make will not affect their football program in a negative way, making BYU a prime candidate for both the AAC and the Big East.
One thing playing against BYU’s favor is their lack of success in basketball in recent memory. It’s been eight years since Jimmer Fredette suited up for the Cougars, and the team recently replaced coach Dave Rose with former Utah Valley coach Mark Pope. Let’s not ignore the facts; Rose was a successful head coach, but the program seemed to stall in recent years, buried behind Gonzaga in the WCC.
The fact of the matter is that BYU is far off in Utah, and the geography may be a burden on a program that has struggled to field NCAA Tournament quality teams in recent years. They might be a better fit in the AAC, though the conference bump either way would have positive long-term effects for the Cougars. Once they aren’t buried behind Gonzaga, big things could result for a program with double-digit All-Americans in their history. Unfortunately, they might just wind up buried behind Villanova and Connecticut and Xavier and everyone else.
While members of the CAA, the Shaka Smart-led Rams made the Final Four as an 11-seed in 2011. They built on that success, moving to the A10 and continuing to win games even as new head coaches emerged. They (along with Dayton) are one of the best programs currently in the A10. Their location in Virginia seems perfect for the Big East, plus there have been a number of rumors and rumblings connecting the two in recent memory.
VCU is a public university, which doesn’t exactly fit in with the Big East model. On the other hand, they do have impressive facilities and are a school that puts basketball first. They’ve been able to build on their surprise Final Four run (unlike George Mason) and they would bring even more Big East excitement to the region.
The recent success at VCU has almost certainly made them a moving cog in the next wave of conference realignment. In all likelihood, this basketball powerhouse is heading to either the AAC or the Big East, though they may not be the most sensible addition from the A10 right now. They have one of the most talented programs, but will the Big East want to add a public school?
3. Saint Louis
The word “East” might be in the conference name, but that doesn’t mean the Big East is all east coast teams anymore. The Billikens are longtime members of the A10 and have been consistent postseason players in recent memory. They definitely struggled under Jim Crews after the death of Rick Majerus, but should take another step forward this upcoming season.
The addition of the Billikens would give the Big East another hub city in Saint Louis. Former Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford has turned around this program and the facilities are new and fantastic. In line with the other Big East schools, this is a private, basketball-first school with the potential for big things in the future. They would become the westernmost Big East school, but does geography really matter in present-day realignment scenarios?
If the Big East does make a move, then Saint Louis might be an addition that makes a lot of sense. A private Catholic school with solid facilities and a basketball program once again on a rise. There aren’t many schools that check all of these boxes. Long past are the days where Saint Louis should be content in the A10, especially as schools like Temple and Xavier left in the last round of conference realignment.
Right off the bat, there are a number of reasons why Dayton would be a fantastic choice for the Big East. First, their football team plays at the FCS level, so there’s no concern there. The basketball program has been really successful, especially for an A10 team. The university is located right in the footprint of the Big East and already have a regional rivalry with Xavier.
The Flyers were seemingly passed over for the Big East when it initially reformed back in 2013, though they fit the new model quite well. They’re a private school with a solid basketball program. They fill their arena and have a ton of excitement in the region. If the Big East does expand, Dayton has a lot to offer the league.
However, have things changed enough in the last six years to warrant the move? It’s true that the A10 has taken a slight step down with Butler, Temple, and Xavier out of the league, but Dayton has taken advantage of their absence. Whether the Musketeers would want their regional rivalry rebirthed is another concern.
If the Big East is looking at geography and basketball talent, then Dayton makes a lot of sense. They aren’t a mid-major that’s come out of nowhere and have already shown their sustained success. 52 years ago the Flyers made the national title game; could they build this kind of team with Big East level of recruiting?
There is no question that while the WCC is a mid-major conference, Gonzaga does not play like a mid-major program. Mark Few is about to begin his 21st season in Spokane, and the Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament in every single one of those seasons. It’s easy to knock their conference, giving them a slate of easy games in January and February, but their recent success has proven that this wasn’t a fluke.
The Bulldogs played for the national championship in 2017. They are the most successful program that the Big East will ever consider. They’ve played games in recent years against current Big East schools and have proven time and time again that they are a national force. Regardless of location, Few is going to go out and land an impressive group of recruits and Gonzaga always seems to be nationally ranked.
Obviously, geography would be a struggle. Gonzaga is all the way on the west coast, thousands of miles away from most of the conference. Few and the Bulldogs have stated that they could make the move work, but that’s a lot of travel for these student athletes, and not just in basketball. Each of the current 11 Big East teams would also have to travel to Spokane on a yearly basis, a commitment that might be hard to make.
The bottom line is that from a basketball perspective, there isn’t a better move. Even if the geography is whack, Gonzaga is a private school with an elite basketball team and no football program. If the geography works, this is the best move for the competitiveness of Big East basketball. Just imagine watching Gonzaga play Villanova and Marquette instead of Portland and Pacific twice a year.