The Prospects of a Continental Conference

By Steve DiMiceli 

Rumors are flying this weekend about the next step for the Big East basketball split that appears to be on the horizon. The seven remaining basketball - only schools seem fed up with the instability of the current unstable football environment where they end up pawns in the BSC reshuffling.  However, if one more football school leaves, the basketball only schools are suddenly in the drivers seat and have the 2/3's majority to simply dissolve the league. If that happens, the sexy speculation has them becoming a coast to coast basketball only super conference. I'll try to answer the question of whether or nothing that league offers a sustainable model for it's members and try to profile schools that might fit.

Here is who I think could become members:

The Locks

Creighton - Have become a top 20 program and are about the only game in Omaha. They'd be a no brainer as they help connect the country.

Gonzaga - A Cinderella to a superpower. Gonzaga would be an ideal coast to coast fit.

St Mary's - A very good program and a near lock for the tournament. St Mary's gives the new conference a foothold in the Bay Area

Xavier - Not many high majors have been as successful as X over the last 10 years. Great fanbase that is willing to travel.

St Louis - New arena, central location and a good market make the Bilikens a lock even if their basketball program is only newly resurgent.

BYU - Should they choose to remain football independent, they would be the new Notre Dame. However, this seems unlikely and the entire concept could fall apart without them.

Butler - Excellent coach, great location, good market and a fantastic brand even if I don't think Butler has the long term staying power some might.

VCU - Final Four and an elite coach have the Rams on the verge of becoming a superpower regardless of what conference they're playing in.

The Possibilities


Pro's - Great fan base, very good history, comparable facilities to current Big East programs, consistent.

Con's - Small market, limited recent success. 

Wichita St

Pro's - Consistently one of the better teams in the Missouri Valley, Regular NCAA team. Good fan support

Con's - Small market, non traditional power.

Drake  or Northern Iowa - I could only see one Iowa school coming. Drake is in a better market. Northern Iowa has been more successful.

Murray St

Pro's - Great run this season and last, emerging brand

Con's - Rural location 107 miles away from a major commerical airport simply doesn't make sense in a league that would require air travel. Likely to fall off after this season.

St Joe's

Pro's - Strong recent tradition and current team, Phil Martelli, small, private school

Con's  - Vilanova is already in Philadelphia, inconsistent, smaller than average facilities


Pro's - Chris Mooney, recent sweet sixteen team

Con's - Up and down, Decent but not great fan support,  VCU already in Richmond, likely one or the other

Long Shots - I won't go into detail here, but the following schools have a chance but not a good one to be added: Santa Clara, Duquesne Rhode Island, UMass, St Bonaventure, Oral Roberts, Seattle and Cleveland St. Duquesne, Cleveland St and Seattle add very good markets, but have no current brand. UMass could be a basketball only option.

Honestly, I  am not sure if there are enough strong programs and markets to make the coast to coast model work. In my opinion, you'd need to go to 20-24 teams to make to get off the ground. That gives you two sub conferences that limit travel expenses for the Olympic sports.  There are 15 solid candidates should BYU decide to remain independent in football giving them a team in 5 of the top media markets, Milwaukee, St Louis Cincinnati and Indianapolis and the state of Utah. However there is a serious fall off after that. Adding teams beyond those 15, the continental conference will be left with the choice of quality program or quality market. Nobody left is that good on their own that they're a no brainer to join nor is anyone in an outstanding market that hasn't been duplicated. More likely than not, this is a pipe dream conceived by a reporter in Providence that will likely carry next to no practical chance of implementation. In the end, the league won't command enough in long term TV revenue from basketball alone to justify a 16 - 18 team league where all sports have to travel coast to coast and I don't think there are enough really good teams to make it work. Programs would lose money and it would eventually split. In the end, it would be less viable than the Conference USA - Mountain West merger that fell through.

As for Duquesne, I'm not sure I'd even want them to leave for the new conference though I really doubt we would even have that option. The Dukes would give the conference access to a better than average market and match the profile of the original member schools in terms of size and Catholic affiliation. However, I don't think the Dukes are in a place financially or competitively that a move would be worth it. We're already struggling to reach the next level in a good but not great A-10. It gets even more difficult in a nationwide league. I honestly think we have a better chance of re-establishing ourselves as a power over the next 5 years in a watered down Atlantic 10 than in the current league or in an elite new conference. We would have a heck of a time catching up in a league like that and in my opinion, we'd end up as another Depaul or Providence who simply can't keep up.

In the end this probably doesn't happen. To me, BYU seems like the key to a coast to coast basketball league working. I think it's far more likely that the former Big East school raid the A-10 and grab Creighton or that they fragment further. A smaller eastern league probably commands similar or slightly higher in TV money as the current A-10 deal does. It won't be close to the $1.5 million the big East school currently get and probably falls somewhere in the $750,000 - $850,000 range. Would that be worth it for Xavier or Butler?

As I mentioned in another recent entry, the best interest for some schools currently in the Big East may not be cooperation. Dissolving the league may only create 7 free agents who no longer need to pay to leave. It could make Georgetown going to the ACC easier and cheaper for the Hoyas.   If the ACC loses football teams like Florida St or Clemson to the SEC or Big 12, suddenly Georgetown and Vilanova's old friends from the Big East are the majority of in the ACC. I find it difficult to believe that Duke, UNC and Georgia Tech would be averse to adding a couple of great basketball only brands. At the end of the day, I think the ACC becomes the Big East from about 10 years ago minus West Virginia and Rutgers, but with Tech and Tobacco Road. Once again, it's a basketball conference with a football problem.