What if the Big East weren't so big?

One pervasive argument in favor of splitting the (soon to be 17 team) Big East is that the league is simply too large and unwieldy. A team like St. John's, with a sparking RPI thanks to beating Duke, still sits on the NCAA bubble due to having nine losses. Under this reasoning, the league's mediocre also-rans: Rutgers, Seton Hall, and Providence, would all at least be capable of earning NIT bids in another conference.

Beyond the obvious reasons tied to football, this logic may actually be one point in favor of adding the Big East adding TCU for all sports. Adding another top basketball program would only push the league's middle down a further rung. It's not like conference basketball is hurting for credibility at this point. RPI and strength of schedule are not exactly pressing concerns. Outside of upsetting traditional rivalries (and watering down the league's TV package), wouldn't it actually be good to have more relative breathers in league play?

Here's a table breaking down the Big East basketball teams (through 2/13) via kenpom ratings.

All Sports Basketball-only
Pitt 5 Villanova 13
Syracuse 15 Georgetown 14
UConn 21
Notre Dame 17
West Virginia 24
Marquette 28
Louisville 25 St. John's 40
Cincinnati 34
Seton Hall 62
Rutgers 75 Providence 71
USF 128 DePaul 195
TCU 169 (not yet in BE)

 

This year Rutgers plays GT, UL, Marquette, Pitt, Providence, Nova, SHU,  USF, and WVU at home, along with Cincy, UConn, DePaul, ND, Nova, Providence, SHU, St. John's, and Syracuse on the road. The easiest option under this scenario for the basketball-only side would be adding Xavier from the Atlantic 10. If you presume that the Big East is qualitatively better than other conferences in a way that doesn't come across well through Pomeroy or Sagarin, both sides would benefit (in terms of securing more NCAA Tournament bids) then by virtue of playing more OOC games.

With relative parity between the two sides of a hypothetical split, how would the Rutgers of 2011 and beyond fare in a brand new all-sports conference? It depends on the setup. In a nine team league, RU would just play Cincy, UConn, UL, Pitt, USF, Syr, TCU, and WVU in a home and away setup. That would not be that much easier than the current slate.

Most of the benefit would come from playing 16 conference games, as opposed to the current 18. Rutgers and other teams could fill that void with a lighter OOC slate, but Rutgers would face some pressure to at least play one yearly game with Seton Hall (and possibly to schedule games against teams like SHU and St. John's); thereby negating some of that aspect. More complicated would be the scenario of adding additional members to a new league, like UCF or Temple, and forgoing round robin scheduling.

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