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Big East Coast Bias Expansion Roundtable

It’s a slow day and there have been expansion rumors this week. Let’s dive in!

NCAA Womens Basketball: Baylor at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, FanRag’s Jon Rothstein mentioned that UConn was exploring a potential return to the Big East. As such, we decided to get a couple of our writers together for a roundtable!

  1. Would you like to see the Huskies return to the Big East? Why or why not?
  2. The double round-robin conference schedule (everybody plays everybody twice) is something everyone seems to enjoy about the Big East. Is the double round-robin something the Big East has to keep, in your opinion, even if the league adds an eleventh team?
  3. If not UConn, are there any other schools you’d like to see the Big East add if they are serious about adding a team this offseason?

Patrick Tonero: Adding UConn would be great for reestablishing old rivalries of the Big East and bringing back a big time program. But why not continue to expand? There are some current mid-majors who have the fanbase of a program like Creighton in the Atlantic 10 Look at Dayton for example: They have had great success, great facilities, and a great fanbase which would geographically continue to expand the Big East. If you don’t want to look out into the Midwest, look South and a program such as VCU could be a major addition for the same reasons as Dayton.

Sam Newberry: 1. I’m not overtly ecstatic about it. I’m fine with the Big East at 10 teams. Right now, while we get all of UConn’s history (it looks like both on the men’s and women’s side of basketball, which would be insane), UConn’s men team isn’t all that great, and I’m not sure if they get better next year (haven’t really done research on recruiting class or watched them past December this year). Women’s basketball, all for it if it happens, but I just don’t think it’s necessary.

2. Double round-robin has to stay. I think it creates a level of league parity (or at least a level of being able to judge how good a conference is and how good each team is in that conference) that some people believe other leagues have (COUGHROTHSTEINANDTHEACCCOUGH) but cannot prove because not every team plays the same schedule.

3. I really, really, really like the Big East at 10 teams. The most I’d want is 11. If we do expand, I think you need to get a team that fits the league identity. All schools are private, smaller schools with basketball history (even if recent success hasn’t been there or the only success has been recently) and no D1 football teams (no football at all is preferred, but we’ll take a D2 team). While I go to one of the Midwestern schools that is in the Big East, I think we need to keep the conference rooted in the east and if we do add another team, we should look there.

Off the top of my head, Dayton is the best candidate (Or the one that comes to mind first). Other options: St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure’s, but neither are anywhere as good as Dayton is for an addition. If we’re foregoing the private school route, VCU is a good option (Cincinnati, Temple, and UConn all having D1 football teams). Maybe Richmond, maybe George Washington? Or we could just steal the entire Atlantic Ten. You know, whatever works.

Andrew Padyk: 1. Oh look, one of the Prodigal Sons of the Big East wants to return home after finding out life with Tulane and East Carolina has not exactly been great. Okay that opening sentence may have been a little mean so let’s try a different approach. I do not see the point in Connecticut returning to the Big East. The conference at the moment is fine actually perfect at ten teams with a similar, dare I say near solid, level of parity. As Sam mentioned, the conference would be getting a mixed bag from Connecticut, with the Women’s team being a boost, the Men’s on the downtrend, and the rest of their luggage filled with nostalgia. There is another point as to why I think Connecticut may have no place in this version of the Big East, but I’ll get to that in point three.

2. Double round robin play has to stay. The format and structure of conference play is much more important than the addition of a single team. Adding an eleventh team to a field of ten displaces that balance of having to play once on the road and once at home. Sure you can add a bye week, but that just looks awkward on the schedule. The strength of a conference can be measured in the balance of play amongst its teams. It provides a perfect cross examination of a team over the course of its conference schedule. At the moment, the Big East has a pretty or near perfect balance. It is not a small sample size or a schedule with a few faux round robin elements that really looks like an excessive list of teams that don’t all play each other over the course of a season. I wonder which conference would have something like that??

3. Okay, point three and the tie-in with point one. So when the Phoenix that was the new Big East arose out of the ashes of the old Big East there was a point of divergence with those that remained/joined in, and those that left. That point being, the school sizes and types of the schools that are in the Big East at this present time. At the moment the Big East is a conference of ten schools. All 10 schools are small private universities and colleges, and with the exception of Butler are of religious affiliation. Connecticut joining up would be a stranger in a strange land as they, with the exception of basketball history, would not fit into the current climate of the conference. Having said that and hopefully articulating it well, I would not mind if the conference were to expand to a max number of twelve teams. Yes at the moment the Big East at 10 teams is a perfect balance and if it were to stay at that they would be fine.

However say the Big East were to go to 12, I agree again with Sam that the schools to join the conference should be small or smaller private colleges and universities with some degree of basketball history. Not having a reliance on football would be grand, as well. I would add another stipulation as well that being they would or at least should be within the Creighton to Providence east-west range on the map of the Continental United States to give the conference some geographical balance. So Gonzaga is out right off the bat.

A few schools that would be prime candidates with these stipulations are: Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s, Dayton, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, Richmond, George Washington, and potentially a flier on Fordham, Bradley, or Loyola Chicago if we are getting into a nitty-gritty stretching the point past the actual point territory. I guess if the Big East were to look at a few public schools, Rhode Island and Virginia Commonwealth might be prime candidates. For an aside observation, part of this feels a lot like the Atlantic 10 is just the waiting room for the Big East. On another note I do love speaking about the hypotheticals of conference expansion.

Mike Hopkins: When it comes to the double round-robin, that is something I believe needs to stay. I’d be generally open to adding an 11th team and expanding to a 20-game round-robin schedule but, I like this current group of 10 and some of my colleagues here suggesting schools like Dayton and VCU leads me to bang my head against the wall. There are countless message board posts and tweets to explain the negatives of adding schools that are either overlapping in geography and/or public institutions so I won’t go into details on why my head is now bleeding, but just know that it is.

Robert O’Neill: I’m not entirely sure UConn would add anything to the Big East despite nostalgia and sentimentality. I’m not just saying that because the program is having a down year, either. I think UConn was a great fit in the Big East when they were there. That was now four years ago. A lot has changed in the conference and college basketball landscape in general. As Anonymous Eagle noted back in July, adding UConn doesn’t even make a ton of financial sense for the Big East. I think the way things are right now are pretty good. The Big East is indisputably continuing to trend upward, and sometimes it’s best to just leave well enough alone. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Christopher Novak: I’m intrigued by UConn coming back to the Big East. Dare I say it would be a great move. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The Big East can still achieve a double round-robin schedule that most of my colleagues have brought up here if the conference expands to 11. That would have them bump up to 20 conference games, yes, but that’s not a drastic step forward. It’s just two games! I’m certain that the Big East probably isn’t the only conference thinking about bumping up to 20 games if expansion happens (or if they’re already in a loaded conference as it is; e.g., the Big Ten and ACC) so everyone can still have the double round-robin schedule that they love so much.
  • UConn’s brand does enough for them to generate excitement. We’ve seen it in the two meetings with Georgetown. I’m sure it would happen if they faced Villanova too. Providence? I’d hazard a guess that it would bring a buzz up in the New England area. Their fanbase is strong enough in the Tri-State Area of New York, New Jersey and, duh, Connecticut, that they’d travel well and bring a buzz wherever they went. Their proximity isn’t an issue at all and isn’t much farther from Omaha or Milwaukee or Cincinnati as schools like Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s are to those respective cities. They’re close to MSG (Hello, Sixth Borough). They tend to bring large crowds with them to The Garden. TV ratings would probably be boosted with their big following. From that standpoint, it’s a slam dunk. Pun intended. They’re an elite program with a huge brand name thanks to their stretch of success dating back to the early 1990s and it’s been sustained and should continue to.
  • I don’t know if they’re necessarily on as big of a downward trend as everyone here is making them out to be. Their 2016 recruiting rankings were eighth-best in the country and next year they’re 20th and still tops in their current conference, the AAC. Since that move to that conference, they’ve gotten nine recruits with four stars or more, with two five stars (Daniel Hamilton, Jalen Adams). 80 percent of the 2016 class were four-star players. They’ll have another four-star on the way next year in Makai Ashton-Langford. Their struggles this year are largely due to injury (4* recruit Alterique Gilbert hasn’t played since November 17) and a few bounces not going their way (a record of 3-5 in games decided by four points or less, and further, a record of 3-4 in games decided by three points or less). They also won 25 games last year and, assuming they do miss the NCAA Tournament this year and the NIT, it would be their first season without a postseason appearance in 10 years. The UConn brand is fine and would be a welcomed addition to the Big East Conference.

In short, bring them back. Keep it at 11 if you want the round-robin. Slap a big exit fee on them if you’re worried about them fleeing (Even though that part’s kind of overstated anyway). Jump through the hoops you need to and get the Huskies back in tow. I’d be all for it.