The talk of four 16-team “super conferences” is gaining credibility as the dominoes continue to fall in college sports.
The Atlantic Coast Conference announced on Sunday that it unanimously voted to accept the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University as its 13th and 14th members — taking them from the Big East.
With conferences like the ACC, Pacific-12, the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten looking to expand, the fate of the Big East and Big 12 are at the mercy of their own top programs.
Big 12 financial powers Texas and Oklahoma each met with its respective Board of Regents on Monday and approved their presidents’ desires to seek out other conferences.
“Football is driving expansion,” former Gophers football head coach Glen Mason tweeted Sunday.
With Pittsburgh and Syracuse exiting, the Big East is left with 15 teams, including its newest addition Texas Christian University. But there is a problem: Only seven of them have a Division I football team.
Premier Big East basketball programs St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall and Notre Dame all held a teleconference on Monday to discuss their basketball futures.
The conference instability has led many to believe the schools involved in the teleconference, all Catholic institutions, will try to form their own basketball league and conjure up their own television contract with a premier station like ESPN.
“I am in contact with other presidents to address the changing dynamics of collegiate conferences nationwide,” Marquette President Scott Pilarz said in an email. “As an institution, Marquette is committed to affiliation with a conference that offers us national exposure and strength of schedule.”
The panic to act stems from the thought of four 16-team conferences coming together and changing the landscape of the NCAA tournament entirely.
If those conferences were to form, one of many ways they could diminish the current NCAA Tournament format is by pressing for two automatic bids per conference instead of one.
Two automatic bids per conference would make it even harder for teams outside the six major conferences to make it to the Big Dance.
This takes away from something that has helped college basketball’s postseason flourish: being inclusive.
The prime example is mid-major school Butler, which made it to back-to-back NCAA tournament championship games.
What if they never even got the shot to be in the bracket?
One more radical prognostication has the four hypothetical super conference teams breaking off from the NCAA basketball tournament and creating their own. Under a scenario brought forth by ESPN college basketball analysts Jay Bilas, the conferences would give preference to their own teams, making it more difficult for “Cinderellas” to make the tournament.
The current NCAA format was actually created despite the old National Invitational Tournament still being in place, so the scenario of a new tournament undermining the current format is not that far-fetched.
College basketball has three times as many Division I teams as college football and its mid-major programs will be the true victims of conference realignment.
“It appears some form of Big East realignment is inevitable,” St. John’s head basketball coach Steve Lavin said in an email. “But St. John’s will continue to thrive as a college basketball program of distinction.”
Most programs have had a positive initial response, but that could certainly change once the bigger pieces begin to fall into place.
Pieces like Oklahoma, Texas and Big East flagship programs Rutgers and Connecticut all hold their conference’s fate in their upcoming realignment decisions.
These moves are expected in the wake of minor seismic activity on the conference landscape, the biggest of which were Pittsburgh’s and Syracuse’s exit from the Big East.
Texas A&M has already been accepted as the 13th member of the SEC and is waiting on legal waivers from the Big 12 for the move to be official.
The Big Ten, which has been the most reluctant to expand, already took Nebraska from the Big 12 last year.
Many speculate that if Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma choose to join the PAC-12, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State would follow to round the conference off at 16 teams.
This would put the Big 12 in a similar position as the Big East, leaving many to wonder if they would merge what is left and form their own conference.
“This is obviously a fluid situation with a great deal of speculation about the future of our league,” Georgetown Athletics Director Lee Reed said in an email.