UPDATE: When I originally wrote this post Tuesday morning, I did not mean it to be entirely serious. It was just an idea to kick around.
But now ESPN.com's Andy Katz is reporting that the Atlantic 10 is in fact open to welcoming the Big East's Catholic contingent. As such, this idea becomes a lot more real, with the possibility of a 21-team league once Temple and Charlotte leave the A-10. I've added another potential division alignment to reflect the news.
We've all been waiting for this to happen, and now it appears it finally has. According to former Boston Globe scribe Mark Blaudschun, the seven Big East schools that don't have I-A football are seriously talking about forming their own conference.
Blaudschun reported Monday that representatives from Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. John's and Providence met Sunday in New York to discuss their collective future. Big East commissioner Mike Aresco was in the room too.
The fundamental question is clear: can a league made entirely of schools without I-A football keep enough brand equity to secure a good television contract?
I'm sure that a lot of people who've followed Big East and Atlantic 10 basketball over the years would like to think so - and yes, I'm one of them.
So at least as an ideal, I've come up with a few concepts for a conference that could work. They all have either 18 or 20 teams, and 18 games in-conference.
If the conference has 20 teams, then each team plays its nine division opponents once and four of them twice, and five crossover games. If the conference has 18 teams, then each team plays its eight division opponents home and away and two crossover games.
In both cases, the top eight teams from each division go to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament.
Having that many teams involved is unwieldy, to be sure. But let's just imagine for a while. And again, the goal is to do this without any I-A football schools. That means no Temple and no Massachusetts.
Option 1: The East Coast Conference Re-Born
Here's the starting point for a 20-team conference.
Option 2: A Smaller Concept
If 20 teams is too many, the easiest teams to get rid of are St. Bonaventure and Holy Cross. The result would look like this:
Before the A-10/Big East merger potential news broke, Katz wondered aloud whether the Big East schools could go after Creighton and Saint Louis without joining the A-10. I can't help calling this concept the National League, given the baseball cities involved.
Here's a potential layout of divisions if the aforementioned Atlantic 10-Big East merger happens, creating a conference with 21 teams. As Katz noted, you could have teams just play in divisions home-and-home, or play every team once.
Option 5: Back To The Future
(I can't imagine why they would, but anyway...)
Here's what we'd end up with:
This puts one I-A football school in each division. If UMass complains about not being in the same division as Rhode Island and Providence, they could be guaranteed those matchups as part of their annual crossover slate.
It also knocks out Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure. I picked Saint Louis because it's a geographic outlier, and St. Bonaventure because, frankly, it's the lowest-profile program in the conference.
If you want to put Saint Louis back in this group, it would probably knock out Fordham. I picked the Rams over Duquesne, because the Dukes give the conference a presence in Pittsburgh. George Washington or UMass would move to the East to put the Billikens in the West.
Of course, the city that makes out best in this is Philadelphia. We'd have four of the Big 5 schools in the same conference, and in the same division to boot. That would put some real spice into the City Series.
(Hey, it's my idea. So I can do that.)
With all of this said, here's the truth: it seems clear that the Big East's non-football schools are trying to do something that really puts basketball first.
That would mean Temple is out of the picture, and UMass would be in something of a state of limbo. Were that to happen, the Minutemen would likely try to join the Temple-Memphis-Houston conference - especially if Connecticut leaves for the ACC.
And consider this: If somehow, Villanova ends up in a conference with La Salle and St. Joe's, all of a sudden the burden of completing the round-robin schedule shifts almost entirely off the Wildcats and on to Temple.
Given Villanova's reputation as the school that killed the Big 5, I'd be interested to see whether perceptions change if the Owls become the key to completing the City Series round-robin.
We now return you to your regularly-scheduled programming.