Over the past month, the preeminent discussion on the college basketball blogs has been the end result of realignment.
For the most part, the big changes were made last summer. Missouri and Texas A&M jumped to the SEC. Syracuse and Pitt finalized their move to the ACC. West Virginia gobbled up a spot in the Big 12. The Big East tried to make up for those losses by adding, well, any school with a halfway decent football team — Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, Houston, Central Florida, Memphis, Temple, Navy (I probably forgot someone, too). Coming on the heels of Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten and Colorado and Utah’s jump to the Pac-12 two years ago, major shifts in the conference structure have begun to seem commonplace.
That’s why the latest rumblings involving Florida State have gotten so much attention. Seismic shifts in the landscape are expected once the first tremors are sent tumbling through the twittersphere. And while we are left waiting to see if the Seminoles want to further shuffle the deck, the majority of the country — i.e. those obsessed with college football — ignores the fact that last summer’s moves have had a profound effect on college basketball’s charm.
The CAA as we knew it is gone. VCU has taken their talents to the Atlantic 10 while Old Dominion and Georgia State have jumped to Conference USA and the Sun Belt, respectively, to chase the gridiron dream. That means that the league that has sent two teams to the Final Four in the last six seasons will now have to try and pry Davidson and the College of Charleston away from the Big South — the league’s two best hoops programs — to ensure that they avoid a destiny similar to that of the WAC.
The Horizon League lost Butler to the Atlantic 10, send yet another Final Four program from the mid-major ranks to a powerful hoops league. San Diego State followed BYU out the door of the Mountain West, opting to stash their non-football programs in the Big West, a league that may not be strong enough to support an at-large bid.
Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com said it best in a column on Monday afternoon:
Realignment spasms come up like hurricanes: annually, the next one seemingly more destructive than the last. We barely notice the swirls a thousand miles off-shore, but then as the possibility something truly damaging gets closer, we then begin to fret. Once, and if, the storm hits the crust of Florida or the Carolinas, and the ugliness is right there for mainstream discussion and lament. But by the time the clouds and rains dwindle further and further north, we turn away from the storm as it loses its power and causes less and less damage.
But unlike a downgraded tropical storm dousing a tiny town with a heavy rain, small schools and conferences are inversely hurt more by the delayed effect — the storm doesn’t dramatically lose power, only attention and wingspan. Conference shifting makes the most obvious headlines with the big boys, but there’s still room for error there, because there’s more money to go around. Few notice, realize or care about how the other end of the chain is affected.
College basketball simply does matter in the minds of the people making the decisions. Otherwise, the nation’s best hoops conference wouldn’t be forced to fill the spots in their league with scraps from Conference USA. Who else is excited to see Providence take on SMU in the opening round of the Big East tournament in New York City?!?!?
There is another way to look at this, however. With Butler and VCU playing a stronger schedule, maybe now we won’t have to worry about those schools being able to put together a schedule that will get them an at-large bid. Maybe the vacancies in the CAA will allow Davidson and Charleston to build their programs up to the point that they can be competing for at-large bids. Maybe SDSU joining the Big West will help schools like Long Beach State and Pacific build the league into one that can challenge WCC on the West Coast.
It’s not exactly doomsday.
But those best case scenarios will take time to play themselves out.
Until then, we’ll get to talk about the charm of the fourth-place team in the Atlantic 10.