As reported today, the new Big East is set to debut with its new divisions next season and restructure them once BYU or Air Force becomes the 14th member. Unless something drastic changes in the next year, it appears Louisville is going to stay in the Big East for the forseeable future (though crazier things have happened with conference realignment). Like it or not, this is where we are. The good news is it is not the death trap we all originally thought it would be. It may be a bit of a shot to the gut to be associated with Conference USA, the Mountain West, the MAC, and the Sun Belt as the “Group of Five,” rather than be associated with the “Big Six” as before (again, screw you, ESPN), but in the end it does not matter. The Big East has playoff access, and that is all we really wanted in the end. It will not be as easy as a 7th access bowl would have been, but as long as the Big East outranks the other conferences (which it should almost every year), it will be the representative conference of the five in the playoffs. While the end goal is still attainable regardless of which conference Louisville is in, several fans will surely continue to voice their opinion that Louisville is only better off if it is in the Big XII. With that, let us take a look at of staying in the new Big East versus moving to the Big XII.
- Playoff access. Duh. The one thing, if any, about staying in the Big East that would make it bearable would be playoff access. We got it. As long as Charlie Strong is head coach, we will be at the top of the league and continue to compete.
- Easier path. While the Big XII would give us better looking neighbors, they also would make our stay there a little more difficult. In the Big East, we would be the top of the food chain and have the easiest path to a playoff. In the Big XII, we would need to knock out teams like Texas (who will not stay down forever), Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and others. Those teams will prove a little more difficult to get by than, say, Memphis, San Diego State, UCONN, Cincinnati, and others.
- Madison Square Garden. Regardless of what teams participate, there is no better venue for a basketball tournament than MSG. Playing on the big stage in the world’s most famous arena is second to none.
- Basketball competition will still be tough. Okay…so losing Syracuse and Pitt hurt a bit. Notre Dame is a consistent underachiever and always among the most overrated teams in basketball. I could do with or without them. However, gaining Memphis, who is consistently getting better under head coach Josh Pastner, and Temple, who is no slouch, is not that big of a drop off, if any. Plus, we still have Villanova, UCONN, Georgetown, and St. John’s (if they continue to get better) as competitors. It could be worse.
- Boise State and potentially BYU. These two teams are better than any Big East opponent U of L has or has had in recent years (including you, West Virginia and Pitt). Boise State, as long as they have Chris Pedersen, will be a national contender, and BYU is a traditional football program with a great fan base. They will offer Louisville respectable competition, as will teams like San Diego State, and of course incumbent Big East teams like Cincinnati and South Florida.
- Charlie Strong. It is no secret that Charlie would like to be part of a better conference. There were murmurs that the coaching staff was already telling recruits the program was Big XII-bound. Now that it looks like that is not the case, it makes one think whether an extremely gifted coach like Strong would rather give himself more competition. Playing in the Big XII would certainly give him that chance.
- Football Recruiting. Strong has already hinted that the Big East is negatively impacting recruiting. That concern became all too real when local star Jason Hatcher chose USC over the Cards and Ryan White, a former Louisville commit, spurned the Cards for Vanderbilt. The Cards are still in good shape for James Quick, but that could very easily change. And these are in-state kids. Imagine the difficulty it could be bringing out of state stars in to convince them to line up against the Temples and UCONNs of the world. The Big XII just has the sex appeal that the Big East does not. They would be playing every game in some of the biggest stadiums in the country in front of huge crowds of die hard fans. Additionally, the idea of playing on a national scale in front of big name schools like Texas and Oklahoma is what big time players want.
- Fan support. Let’s face it. Our fan base as it relates to football is less than reliable at times. Too often we have seen way too many empty seats, fans coming in late and then leaving early (the North Carolina game anyone?). Fans may enjoy tailgating (we all do) and want to beat the traffic on the way out (who likes traffic?), but do you really think players like seeing that? Especially for a team that is 9-1. However, while the die-hard fans are always there, most casual fans likely have very little interest in seeing these teams in the Big East. Along with that, the opposing teams in the Big East rarely bring their fan base with them. If we get big name, traditional teams to come to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, more casual fans would take interest. It would put is in elite company, and the more casual fan would most definitely be intrigued. Big XII fans travel well, too. Oklahoma and Texas fans are everywhere and they would certainly fill seats U of L fans would not.
- Baseball. I admit, I am not totally aware of how the Big East and Big XII compare in most of the sports outside of football and basketball, but I do know that the Big XII is regarded as an elite baseball conference. This would definitely entice Dan McDonnell as much as it would Charlie Strong.
These are just a few of the variables, but the bottom line is the ultimate goal is the same in either conference. It is easier to get there via the Big East, but more admirable (arguably) and attractive to get there via the Big XII. The latter path would definitely get more national respect than the former. Recruiting may hurt a bit in football staying in the Big East, but then again, in the Big East, they will be a favorite to be in the playoff race every year at Louisville. With the intense competition in the Big XII, they may finish middle of the pack. With regards to basketball, it would be more beneficial for recruiting to stay in the Big East. After all, they will still host healthy competition year in and year out, and make no mistake about it, playing in Madison Square Garden is HUGE. Playing against Kansas would be great and Texas occasionally, but outside of those two. it’s very…meh. The biggest wild card is how this affects Charlie Strong, of course, and fans can only hope he stays true to his word, ignores the bright lights of the SEC and sees this as the opportunity it is. The best case scenario may be to add BYU and consistently add quality non-conference opponents (if any of them ever get the balls to play us again), and the football program will be just fine. Basketball, of course, will always be fine regardless of where it is at.
So where do you think the Cards are better off? Feel free to voice your opinion below.