PantherU

These dominoes will reach Milwaukee

When news on Sportscenter broke Saturday that Pitt and Syracuse had applied for membership in the ACC, the first thing I thought of was, “Well, there goes the BIG EAST.”  Of course that’s only in football.  For the readers of this blog, the resident BIG EAST program, Marquette, is in no serious danger.  When the dust settles, the Golden Eagles, they of the second-highest expense account in D-I basketball, will have a home, and that home will not be of the “mid-major” status.  Either the basketball schools of the BIG EAST will rally around and continue to push forward, or the conference that they merge with (probably several schools in the A-10) will be bumped up beyond its current status.

Pitt's football program, not nationally-powerful basketball, will get it into the ACC.

But where does that leave Milwaukee?

If the moves being talked about go through – Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the Pac-12, Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC – then there are many other dominoes that will fall.  The Sooner State departures will leave the Big 12 with just seven schools, more than half of which are pretty average as far as football programs go.  At this point, the possibilities of the University of Texas going independent are far too great – they, of course, made it clear that’s the direction they were leaning with the creation of the Longhorn Network – and the Big 12′s remaining institutions would be scrambling to find homes elsewhere.

Pitt and Syracuse leaving for the ACC creates other real issues in that conference.  While losing Syracuse football isn’t a terrible loss, Pitt is one of the two-three marquee programs left in the BIG EAST. It leaves the 2012 conference with seven football schools (lose two, gaining TCU) and eight non-football schools (this includes FBS independent Notre Dame and still-FCS Villanova and Georgetown).  If they want to continue in their current direction and avoid blowing up the conference, the BIG EAST can turn to several schools: Temple, the obvious choice and former BIG EAST football program has regained its basketball worth and could join in all sports; Memphis, whose football program is a joke but has a basketball program that would go a long way towards filling the void left by Pitt and Syracuse; and UCF, whose football program is already just as good or better than most BIG EAST schools and would provide an obvious rivalry/travel partner with USF.

UCF's football program puts it ahead of many non-football schools in the push for high-major membership.

The difference here is the BIG EAST schools have choices here, the Big 12 schools really don’t.  If the predictions of journalists like Todd McShay come to be and we’re heading towards four superconferences, then the obvious conferences out are the BIG EAST and Big 12.

For those Marquette fans who stumble upon my blog, I will reiterate that the likely scenario for MU in case this happens is a fifth “high-major” conference that plays only basketball.  You have enough somewhat geographically joined programs to make at least one high-major conference out of basketball-only institutions.  Marquette, DePaul, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence, Villanova and Georgetown would make a very strong high-major conference on their own. There are strong annual schools in MU, Notre Dame, Villanova and Georgetown.  There are middle-of-the-pack schools that have good years on occasion in Providence and St. John’s.  And there are bottom-feeders in Seton Hall and DePaul to bend over and take the whoopin’ as they have been for awhile now.

Of course, should John Marinatto not want to sit with an eight-team basketball conference, he could push for the addition of any number of other schools to make the BIG EAST still the primary national power of the northeast in basketball.  Xavier and Dayton are the obvious additions that would bring the conference to 10.  If they wanted to go higher, Richmond and VCU would be great fits, as would Old Dominion and George Mason have better programs than Providence, DePaul or Seton Hall.  If they’re looking for 16, of course, there are other teams – UMass, St. Joseph’s, Temple, St. Louis…and then, there’s Butler.

Could this be a future conference game against St. John's? It could be more likely than Milwaukee.

That’s where it leaves Milwaukee.  The Horizon League, based in Indianapolis just minutes from the Butler University campus, would lose one of its two flagship all-sport schools.  Milwaukee would lose its archrival, the conference would move back to nine members (and still have YSU), and we’d be on the outside looking in of a New National Collegiate Athletic Order that is rumored to be talked about amongst the presidents of the biggest college athletic programs.

To them, it makes sense.  A smaller piece of the NCAA Tournament pie is OK when you have about 260 less schools to share that pie with.  Solidifying around the BCS is a good thing to those schools, because it’s all about having more money.

They also know that at some point, student-athletes are going to get paid, especially football and men’s basketball players.  It’s essential for them to be the first in the money-grab, and these superconferences are their first major step towards consolidating that power.  The basketball-only high-major conferences will likely be a part of that – I don’t think paying players would keep Buzz Williams from the upper echelon.  And there’s room for other schools to get into that party, whether it’s basketball-only or with football.

Even if the superconferences secede from the NCAA, there’s room for advancement because what’s left on the table – Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Missouri, Baylor, Texas (unless they go independent), Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, West Virginia, the BIG EAST basketball schools, the upper echelons of the MVC, Horizon, CAA, A-10, Mountain West, WCC, and C-USA – still holds a lot of value to the “four superconferences” group and whatever schools out of the previous group they pick up.

There won’t be unending spaces – like I said, the seceding superconferences won’t want to share the pie with everyone – but there is space for both basketball-only and football schools in the New World Order run by Florida, Ohio State, Duke and USC.

Even if the superconferences don’t secede from the NCAA and they just consolidate their power within the system, there are places to land.  Milwaukee has a chance to jump into that, or jump into a beneficial situation.  There is one thing I am absolutely sure of at this moment, however:

Engelmann Stadium may host nationally powerful soccer programs, but it won't be Milwaukee's ticket to the big time.

Milwaukee Athletics in its current state will not garner an invitation to move up from anyone unless Butler mandates it, and the likelihood of that is next to nil.

This is what we have working against us.  There are spaces for basketball-only schools and there are spaces for football/basketball schools.  As a basketball-only school, we immediately cut our chances of moving up (or, should Butler bolt, our chances of merely treading water) in half.  That is hurt even further by our current basketball attendance, as its the only revenue sport we have to bank on and is trumped by most schools in the MVC, the upper-half of the A-10, a few schools in our own conference, most of the WCC and Mountain West, several in the WAC, and a slew of other schools.

In short, by putting all our eggs in the men’s basketball basket, we are not only showing how weak of an option we are to potential conferences, we are helping showcase the school across the street.  Marquette is everything we are and more.  Basketball-only, they are in a better conference, have tons money, they have the growth-sport of the future (lacrosse) instead of the one dying in the north (baseball), and in the only sport that will get them into the conference big dance, they have significantly higher attendance, past success, recent success, and potential for future success.

Even if a conference of the future in the “haves” sees value in us, they will see more value in Marquette and go that direction.

So, what Milwaukee needs to do is differentiate itself from Marquette and double its chances of being a part of the future power-brokers group, whether that’s five years from now or 15.  I say that last part because if there’s anything we’ve learned in the past 16 months, it’s this: money makes the world go round, football makes the money (and I’m not talking about something as mundane as income vs. expenses in individual programs), and that it is fluid.  Conferences will be open to expansion in the future just as they are today, so if we, say, put together a football feasibility committee in the spring, put it to a successful vote in 2012-13, then get ready for Game One in, for instance, September 2018, the door will still be open for us down the line.

Football is the only way Milwaukee can get conferences to look past Marquette and other non-football schools and see the Panthers.

This is what I do know.  Without football, you’re looking at men’s basketball, the third-best option in the city of its own sport, as the lone program to shoulder not only the rest, but the $8 million deficit the program is in.  With football, you’re sharing the load between two programs so if one has a couple down years, the program isn’t crippled.

We’re standing on one leg right now, people.  It’s about time we put the other foot down.

Part of this story is an excerpt of The Case for Football, my report on the athletics program and why it needs to get on the gridiron.  It’s a work in progress, but will be out sometime before basketball season commences.

Also, check back Monday for the beginning of our Schedule Breakdown series that will take a look at every Milwaukee men’s basketball opponent in 2011-12.

2 Comments

  1. Title_BU (@Title_BU)

    September 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I don’t know where it would come up with the money, but the MVC is attempting to add football/basketball membership. It would be very, very expensive to and full scholarship FCS football, but that’s an option.

    Other than than, I think you’d be left with a Summit League consolidation after Butler leaves the Horizon League (there’s be other departures as well)

    Regardless, there’s really no conceivable way the Horizon League doesn’t drastically change.

  2. Dave Reid

    September 19, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Even before this shakeup I’ve long felt UWM should investigate adding a football program. Of course it is a long term effort, but beyond the value simply to UWM athletics it could be a benefit to the university in regards to enrollment as well, and in turn could be a benefit to the City of Milwaukee.

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