Realignment Revisited: Pitino Continues Big East Division Talk

It's been a subject that has been kicked around for sometime: splitting the basketball superconference that is the Big East into two divisions.  Recently, Louisville coach Rick Pitino BLOGGED his thoughts on the need for some kind of realignment in the conference.  Some musings after the jump...

Pitino cuts up the soon-to-be 17 Big East teams into East/West divisions of 8 and 9 teams, respectively.  Just like many other "geographic" arrangements in sports, this plan doesn't entirely comport with a basic understanding of the principles of longitute.  That's fine - for all practical purposes, regional geography is not all that important a factor in sports these days.  Georgetown is already likely to play a home thriller against Providence and then get on a plane to fight Round 2 of the epic rivalry against Marquette in the span of 72 hours.  Every other school faces similar situations throughout the year.  Theoretically, if you wanted a balanced East-West breakdown, it would look something like this:

1.  Georgetown
2.  Syracuse
3.  Villanova
4.  UConn
5.  St. John's
6.  Seton Hall
7.  Rutgers
8.  Providence
9.  South Florida (could swing either way, let's say keep them here in case Memphis joins)

1.  Pitt
2.  Louisville
3.  ND
4.  West Virginia
5.  Marquette
6.  Cincinnati
7.  TCU
8.  DePaul
9.  Some sterling academic institution with a football team (like Memphis, Harvard of the Mississippi).

Geography: solved.  But far more importantly, you'll notice that now the football schools have been broken up fairly evenly: 4 1/2 (Nova is the 1/2) in the East, 5/6 in the West (not counting indie ND).  Of additional importance, the rivalries have been more tightly sealed: you have Gtown/Cuse/Nova/UConn/Johnnies, with their tangle of traditional and VITALLY IMPORTANT rivalries; and out in the heavier states you keep the Backyard Brawl, ND-Marquette (which I hear is a thing), and can let Louisville and Cincy stir things up I suppose.

While divisions have been tried before without much success, the lack of staying power can mainly be attributed to a) a previously manageable conference size/schedule; and b) the lack of any compelling need to maintain a particular conference structure.  Both of these points have been turned on their heads by expansion and the threat of conference dissolution.  If Big East schools are serious about keeping this house undivided, they need to start thinking about how to structure basketball so that it offers their teams the best matchups and most coverage.  While basketball will never be the big earner that football is, its position as a big #2 draw for a lot of the big schools is still a selling point.  Pitino adds an interesting idea on this point: inter-division games at MSG.

Venue gimmicks aside, you would essentially be creating 2 sub-conferences, which raises the stakes for each game.  Right now, it does not make that much of a difference for a BE team if they finish #5 or #7; #10 or #12; #2 or #4.  With a re-alignment, the standings become way more clear, and each game becomes more meaningful with a shorter ladder to climb.  The prospect of a mid-season inter-division weekend would be a massive seller at MSG if they could find a way to effectively schedule it, and would be another aspect of this conference that would set it apart from the rest of the nation.  Of additional relevance, if you look at the new formats for the Pac-12 and Big-whatever in the Midwest, this seems to be the direction most schools are taking in general to preserve conference integrity.  It is also the logical endpoint of the movement sparked by the progenitor of all this megaconference nonsense: the ACC's Great Raid of 2003/2004.

This is just a proposal that I think makes sense both from a basketball-only and a multi-sport perspective because it locks football and non-football schools together while actually augmenting the traditional basketball rivalries.  Thus, the basketball gets better/more lucrative, which provides the football schools a considerable disincentive for leaving (or dumping) the basketball-only schools.  As an aside, while geography is not all that important to the teams themselves, it is nice for the fans.  I know Hoya fans are not known as the best travellers (we're working on this), but as teams play each other more consistently within regions, I think one would see better road performances from all fans, which would, in turn, be indicative of increased interest and revenue if everybody is playing the game.  So yeah, food for thought.  Eat that box and see what comes up.

Stay Casual, my friends.

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