By Joe Clark, Sports Editor
Realignment has once again taken over college athletics, with Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC and BYU, Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston joining the Big 12.
To replace them, the American Athletic Conference added Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, Rice, North Texas, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-San Antonio, which puts the future of Conference USA in question. Anytime realignment comes up, the Big East is mentioned because of its status as a premier basketball-only conference.
Invariably, questions arise as to whether the Big East could expand further, even after bringing UConn back to the conference last year. Ultimately, it’s likely the Big East stays as is, but here are some avenues for expansion if the Big East decides to go that route.
The number one option for a school to join the league is Gonzaga. With BYU leaving the West Coast Conference (WCC) for basketball, Gonzaga loses its biggest conference threat and a school that raised the profile of the WCC.
As a basketball-only school, Gonzaga seemingly fits well in the Big East — except, the school is located in Spokane, Wash. The Big East didn’t mind expanding to the Midwest when it came time for them to form a new conference in 2013, but that far west can cause travel and tip-time problems.
If the Big East was going to add Gonzaga, it would have to be through a major expansion that broke the conference up into leagues. The Big East could add Gonzaga, along with St. Mary’s, San Francisco and Loyola-Marymount (gutting the WCC in the process) and make a Big East West subdivision.
While St. Mary’s has historically been successful, it’s unclear if it would be worth adding Gonzaga to take on San Francisco and Loyola-Marymount (LMU). While they are improving programs, it’s undeniable that San Francisco and LMU are significantly worse than the rest of the conference. That’s a concern that the league would have to consider.
You don’t need to add those schools in conjunction with Gonzaga, but ultimately it would make the most sense logistically to give Gonzaga regional opponents.
The only other expansion option that would truly be intriguing is adding Kansas. While the Jayhawks still sponsor FBS football, they aren’t good at all and could follow UConn in dropping their football program to independent.Financially and on the field, the Big 12 is worse off without Texas and Oklahoma, and Kansas could be looking for a way out of the new Big 12.
The Big East could be the perfect fit as a school that prioritizes basketball, and the geographic fit makes sense. If Kansas leaves, I think it’ll be for the Big 10, but it’s worth a call if the Big East decides to expand.
Other expansion options include the usual suspects: Dayton, VCU, Wichita State, Rhode Island and Loyola-Chicago. All could be potential fits in the conference, but outside of maybe Loyola-Chicago, none of those schools significantly raise the conference’s profile.
If the Big East is going to expand, it’s likely going to be for a big fish in the form of Gonzaga or Kansas, or another similarly basketball-focused school.
For now, though, let’s just enjoy watching the greatest conference in the world take the floor for what should be another exciting college basketball season.