I'm a transplanted Nebraskan. You can tell this because I enjoy college basketball as much as I like college football. Native Nebraskans see basketball as a diversion between bowl season and the spring game. When I moved here, from the state of Kentucky no less, I watched the team from Lincoln and feared I was in no man's land.
Coming from the land of the Wildcats and Coach Pitino, I feared I would not see a good basketball game, other than March Madness, again. Then I discovered the Creighton Bluejays. In Omaha, no less! Coach Dana Altman did an impressive job recruiting and coaching solid players into very capable teams. One Creighton alum, Kyle Korver, currently plays with the Atlanta Hawks (he spent the past two seasons with my Chicago Bulls and three seasons ago set the NBA record for 3-point percentage shooting in a single season as a member of the Utah Jazz). In the end, Coach Altman was rewarded with the head coaching job at Oregon, and they are now nationally ranked and headed for the tournament, too.
When Altman left, Creighton recruited Coach Greg McDermott from the University of Northern Iowa, a conference rival. It was a package deal, get McDermott, and his son, Naismith candidate Doug McDermott, added a shot in the arm to a program that was uncertain if it could move beyond the Altman years successfully. It worked. Coach McDermott assembled a team that has been ranked as high as #14 this season, was the regular season Missouri Valley champion, will likely play for the tournament championship on Sunday, and could get as far as the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, depending on the pairings. Doug is reportedly considering a jump to the NBA in this year's draft, as a junior. He's investigated where he might be taken.
There is a business philosophy, "grow or die". Two years ago, the Nebraska Cornhuskers left the Big 12 to join the Big 10, in an effort to grow their national recognition, align with a prestigious educational and athletic conference, and gain better financial considerations in a Big 10 athletic contract over the Big 12's. This started several schools moving from one conference to another.
Two years later, the ripple effect has returned to Omaha. After Nebraska, schools from the Big 12 moved to the Big 10, the SEC, and the Pac 10. To keep pace, the ACC recruited Big East schools who feature football and basketball programs, who did not move elsewhere (Rutgers will join the Big 10 next year). This left several Big East schools who do not play football. These are Catholic schools. There are seven, church affiliated schools which remain from the Big East that will form a new conference. St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, Providence, DePaul, Villanova and Georgetown. It was announced, today, the Big East is willing to "sell" the name and rights for "Big East" to the new conference as part of a complex formula involving buyout fees from schools leaving the conference, and tournament fees from this year's March Madness. There may also be expenses for buying out other schools that might like to join (Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10 conference are being considered, but have $2 million buyouts to leave.) Ironically, Notre Dame, the most notable Catholic school, is considering moving its basketball program to the ACC rather than stick with its Catholic brethern, while maintaining independence in football. It would be easier to compete and keep that independence without pressure from television or the conference if they would align with a "basketball only" conference, for now; but I'm certain finances will dictate their final move. There is uncertainty where they will play next year.
The "Catholic Seven" has a television contract with Fox that would increase revenue to the schools over the previous football/basketball contract the Big East had with ESPN (from $2 million for both to $3 million for basketball only, reportedly). Adding two schools would improve the exposure and make it more attractive to Fox. Adding 3, and getting to 10 teams, would keep the prestige and competitiveness with other elite conferences.
This is where the rumors start. As Creighton plays Indiana State to get to the Valley championship game tomorrow, there have been erroneous Tweets and posts the move is happening. There's already speculation over schools the Valley might pursue to replace them. At this point in time, the school, nor anyone affiliated with the new conference, is commenting. There wont be any official word until after the Valley tournament, and possibly the NCAA March Madness will play out before anything is said. So, this is the time when it's fun to speculate and consider the possibilities.
It's already been pointed out, in the local sports section of the Omaha World Herald, that the move would present Creighton with access to recruits and exposure in markets that were almost unthinkable. Moving to the "Big East" would mean playing in New York, Chicago, Washington DC, and Milwaukee, vs Evansville, Carbondale, and Wichita. In theory, it improves the ability of the coaching staff to recruit; which is impressive given the quality of the recruiting they have done.
There is one consideration that, so far, has not been addressed. Jays' fans have been conditioned to think Doug McDermott is leaving. He is a junior, with the conference MVP award, the regular season title, and NCAA tournament exposure. At the last home game, and even among fans at the Valley tournament, fans chant "One More Year". If he chooses to become eligible for the NBA, he will likely be drafted late in the first round or solidly in the second round. A good showing for the top Valley player over the past three seasons.
Imagine, for a minute, Creighton moves to the Big East; the national exposure, and the competition with Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette, and Villanova. If McDermott holds his own, continues to be an MVP candidate or winner? If Creighton finds its way back to the NCAA.
This is not an indictment of the Missouri Valley. As a fan since I've moved here, Valley basketball is competitive. I also understand marketing, and presentation, though. Perception is often reality, and McDermott can raise his draft value if he finishes his college career in the Big East. He might also provide one last "shot in the arm" for his father's recruiting efforts, and by extension, the Creighton Blue Jays' program moving forward.
So many possibilities. First, let's win the Missouri Valley tournament. One last time, anyway.