Out Of Their League
By Jeff Falconio
This time of year college basketball is about competition. The big schools are fighting for the top seeds while bubble teams look for that signature win. The mid-major and small schools are jockeying for seeding in the all important conference tournaments.
There will always be strong and weak programs in any conference, but when one team is so dominant it never loses, when another team has simply outgrown the competition or when a team simply cannot keep up with the big dogs the way they used to, it's time for a change.
So in the spirit of competition may I suggest a change, think of it as mid-major musical chairs.
First, get Memphis out of Conference USA. The Tigers didn't make the cut when the Big East plucked four schools, including Marquette, from Conference USA. As a result, the Tigers became a major program in a mid-major conference and they've blasted everything in sight. Memphis has won an astonishing 54 conference games in a row. The Tigers are just too good for the likes of UAB and Houston, so it's time to move up a notch. Let's be honest, when the Big East expanded in 2005 Memphis should've been included with Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette. But no one wanted to disrupt the traditional Marquette-DePaul rivalry so the Blue Demons were admitted ahead of Memphis. Big mistake. The Big East is as tough as it gets but imagine how insanely good the conference would be if Memphis took DePaul's place.
But what about tradition? Hey, the Marquette-Notre Dame rivalry was one of the best in the 1970's and 80's but the two schools ceased playing each other in the mid-90's. Why would DePaul accept it? They don't have to, the conference can make the call. Temple was once a football-playing member of the Big East but they got kicked out. The reason? They stunk and Temple simply couldn't compete with the big time programs. Neither can DePaul. This is not a knee jerk reaction to DePaul's 0-14 conference record. Since joining the Big East the Blue Demons are a paltry 20-44 in nearly four full seasons. That does not cut it.
So switch Memphis with DePaul, right? Not so fast. There's another mid-major program that has become too good for their own good. The Butler Bulldogs have been the shining beacon of the Horizon League. Since the 1999-2000 season Butler has won the regular season title six times and the Bulldogs are one win away from a seventh title this decade. Like Memphis, Butler has gotten too big for their conference and that means it's time to elevate.
So here's my proposal: move Butler to Conference USA, shift Memphis to the Big East and have DePaul replace Butler in the Horizon League. With Butler on board, Conference USA becomes more competitive which in turn could make it easier to get multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament. As it is now, none of the Conference USA schools can beat Memphis, therefore none of those teams can get a quality win in the last two months of the season. With Memphis in the Big East you create two eight team divisions, the original eight teams in an old school division and the other eight in a "post modern" Big East division. Think about the tremendous balance that would create. There would be talk of 10 Big East schools making the tournament every year. Finally, with DePaul in the Horizon League the Blue Demons have a chance to return to respectability. You get immediate rivalries with UWM, Illinois-Chicago and Loyola and it might open up Chicago for recruiting purposes.
As a result all three conferences become more competitive and all three teams benefit from a round of mid-major musical chairs.