Griggs’s Weekly Offseason Banter: Conference Musical Chairs

-The nice thing about calling this “Weekly Offseason Banter” is that I’m allowed to banter. There are certain times of the year, particularly early December, early May, and late August, when life outside of cyberspace becomes very busy for me. This resulted in me missing my normal target time for posting on Hoops HD. I began receiving frantic phone calls, emails, and texts, from people all over the world who were in a panic over not having their weekly banter from David Griggs. NBA Commissioner David Stern threatened to postpone the playoffs if the banter did not resume. Feeling the way that I do about the NBA, I was tempted to quit Hoops HD entirely, but decided my love for college hoops surpassed my disdain for NBA hoops. So, without further ado….


-It seems as though there was more fervor surrounding conference realignment last summer than this summer, probably because almost all of the speculation involved the major conferences, but there has actually been more movement this offseason.

-In case you’ve been living under a rock, The Big East is losing Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, and West Virginia to the Big Twelve. This impacts football more than it impacts basketball, so the Big East felt compelled to replace them with programs that would best help the conference’s football profile. They called up SMU, Houston and UCF from Conference USA. Memphis has lousy football, but they were invited to join as well. So, as it currently stands, the Big East basketball lineup will be Louisville, Cincinnati, SMU, Houston, UCF, Memphis, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul. All of those teams are either currently in or were recently in Conference USA. Perhaps the Big East should hire the current CUSA commissioner. He knows all about all of those teams. Rutgers, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, Saint John’s and Providence round out what will be a 17 team Big East.

That is still a solid conference, but there is a significant amount of tradition that is going away. Big East basketball has always provided an intense regular season that ended with what I considered to be one of the best showcases in college basketball in their conference tournament. We’re losing the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and WVU. They may still play, but it won’t be the same now that it’s not a conference game. Same with UConn vs Syracuse. Same with Syracuse vs Georgetown. Literally half of the Big East used to be Conference USA. DePaul, Marquette, Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati all have rivalry and history with one another. It just seems very odd that it has been transplanted the way that it has.

Call me sentimental, but I kind of liked it the way it was before.

-Conference USA is undergoing its second major change in recent years. In fact UAB, Tulane, East Carolina and Southern Miss are the only schools schools that were in the league in 2004, and plan to remain in the league after the second wave of realignment. Rice, UTEP and Marshall joined the league back in 2005. They will now be joined by Louisiana Tech, UT San Antonio, Florida International, North Texas and Charlotte (who is actually rejoining the league).

University presidents make these decisions, and it is obvious that there are two things the CUSA presidents were looking for: academic classification, and market size. Athletic tradition, success, and resources?? I guess that’s all secondary. All of the new institutions are tier one research universities, and all but Louisiana Tech are in big media markets.

Unfortunately, another thing these new schools have in common are lousy, unaccomplished basketball teams with small fan bases. Maybe that was also a criteria for expansion. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky are established programs who fit the geographic footprint, and Middle Tennessee brings the Nashville market. You turn on the games when either of those two teams are playing, and there are actually people there, yet they were completely passed over by CUSA.

Conference USA was a great basketball conference and a rather competitive football conference. It’s just that CUSA is now the Big East….or at least half of it.

-Missouri and Texas A&M are leaving the Big Twelve for the SEC. This means the end of two longstanding football and basketball rivalries in Texas vs Texas A&M (although they may continue to play in basketball, it still won’t be the same) and Kansas vs Missouri. My feelings on that are well documented. In a nutshell, the best way to phrase it with proper professional etiquette is this…. “I’M PISSED!!”

-The Mountain West may have become a victim of its own success, which is unfortunate. The league ventured out on its own and started its own network, and had a nucleus of schools with substantial and passionate fan bases. The classic lineup was Utah, BYU, Colorado State, Air Force, UNLV, New Mexico, San Diego State and Wyoming. TCU joined the league later on, which didn’t add much to basketball, but added a ton to football. Boise State came on board as a tenth member, which would have made this a high quality league in both major sports. It was putting multiple teams into the top 25 in both football and basketball. They also managed to send teams to BCS Bowls on four occasions, and won three of those games. That does not count the addition of Boise State.

However, before it could become a league that would match up very well against any of the “major” conferences with its ten team format, BYU defected for football independence and full membership in the West Coast Conference, and Utah defected for the Pac Twelve (which appears to be a step down, at least in the short term). Even with just eight teams, the league put four teams in the NCAA Tournament last year, which was half the membership, but now even that is coming to an end with San Diego State leaving for the Big West in basketball and Big East in football, and Boise State leaving for the Big East in football…..and I don’t know where they’ll end up in basketball.

They do take on San Jose State and Utah State, who are solid additions, but had the league stayed the course with its ten team format, it could have ended up being as good as any major conference.

-The WAC is currently flailing around like a drowning person in the attempt to keep its head above water. It may not survive, and if it does it will look very much like a one-bid league in the #15 seed range. That is where Boise State planned to put its basketball team, but with the BCS getting rid of automatic qualifiers, it’s possible that San Diego State and Boise State will remain in the Mountain West. I think it would be best if they did, not just in basketball, but overall.

In closing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t like the conference that your team is in, just wait a couple of days. It will probably change.

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