Conference Realignment Talk Triggers Possibilities

Just as DU engineered a master stroke in moving women’s lacrosse to the Big East, Big 12 expansion talks are heating up again. According to an SB Nation article yesterday, the Big 12 is getting close to adding two more teams. The league commissioned a study to run models on the net impact of expanding back to a 12-team member conference with eight regular season conference games and a title game. This format would provide the Big 12 the best chance to make the College Football Playoff. The odds, when calculated by a consulting firm, predicted a 4-5% greater chance to compete for the national championship annually with 12 members instead of 10. 

Of course there are complications. Texas has the Longhorn network  which limits the creation of a Big 12 network to compete with the remaining super-conferences. The Texas teams don’t want to add Houston because that would split the ‘Texas pie.’ Cincinnati has been on bended knee begging to join while BYU is the consensus pick to make the cut if the conference were to expand. Other dark horses who have expressed an interest include Memphis, UCF, USF, and UConn. To approve expansion, league members need an affirmative super majority vote of 75% or 8 of 10 current members to allow entry.

It all boils down to money. In exchange for adding two members and sharing league revenues, the league gets additional exposure, entry fees, and a chance to share the pot when they advance into the College Football Playoff. Any other considerations are secondary in the high flying, big money, football revenue driven Power 5 conferences.

If that occurs, a slot will likely open in the West Coast Conference (WCC) – a league membership which is much more aligned with DU than the Summit League. With the potential departure of BYU, an already poor fit for the WCC, Denver would be an ideal replacement candidate. Denver has established relationships with the WCC through previous efforts at joining the conference. Now, DU is sitting squarely on another probable Directors Cup win this year and a boat load of NCAA appearances. DU, with the exception of basketball, is a hot commodity and is being noticed nationally. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that may not surface again – so DU needs to act.

The new ‘wild card’ is the emergence of the Big East Conference as an athletic partner. Is there a possibility that there is a fit there for DU, especially in basketball, soccer, and volleyball? That would leave DU golf, tennis and swimming and diving without a home. All DU’s other sports have secure conference affiliations. Could DU forge affiliate relationships for these other sports to join strong regional conferences such as DU gymnastics has done with the Big 12? This would place Denver’s conference affiliation in a stable position for the long haul – if there is such a thing in Division I athletics.

Finally, could DU actually leverage the WCC against the Big East to forge the best possible deal? If they get an offer from just one of the two, they can go back to the other one to test their interest as well. It just might work in DU’s favor where the university can negotiate from a position of strength.

The decision on Big 12 expansion is 4-5 weeks away when the conference president’s meet again. If BYU is selected, we may be facing another league change, this time for the better.

Time for a full-court press.

13 thoughts on “Conference Realignment Talk Triggers Possibilities”

  1. I’ll comment more later 5b, some of us have to work. As for golf, No reason for Big East not to let us join. All it really means is we compete in their conference Championship. WCC is the best fit for we could put most of our teams in there.
    Okay, not working that hard. DU in the Big East in Men’s hoops. I’ve attended the BET at MSG since it began. Took off from work on Thursday or Friday for the quadruple header. It’s college basketball heaven. I can only dream of Garden PA announcer John Condon saying: Good evening ladies and gentleman and welcome to the magical world of Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena. In tonight’s final we have your St. Johns Red Storm coached by Chris Mullen squaring off against the University of Denver Pioneers coached by Rodney Billups.
    And some call 5b a dreamer, but he’s not the only one.

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  2. This is all very intriguing of course – I hope these doors open soon for DU, but I fear it’s going to take a lot more work and may take many years…

    As we know, men’s basketball is key to moving up to a better conference affiliation, and with DU’s mixed levels of basketball success over the last 10 years, it remains as the most difficult issue on Peg’s desk.

    DU had a top 75 men’s hoops RPI under Joe Scott in 2013, but that number has slipped to around 195 currently, with no NCAA appearances, forcing the hire of Rodney Billups as the new head coach. Billups’ job will be to win games and put DU hoops back on the local map, and the hope is that DU will become enough of a power in the Summit League to attract interest from better conferences.

    Certainly, DU has the resources and facilities to be better than 195. It’s certainly doable for DU to be a top 100 RPI team consistently, but to break into the top 50-60 (where the bigger conferences really take notice) will test every limit of DU’s resources, coaching, and talent. Being a top 50-60 program would put the Pioneers at the top of mid-major range, and would make DU attractive to other conferences. but without a football team (and at $50-100 million to start football, that’s not happening), those conference destinations are probably limited.

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    1. I think it is a chicken or egg issue with basketball. People at DU, students and alums, do not like the Summit. Recruits that are good and academically qualified will go to play in other leagues. Attendance will always be a challenge. DU has already proven it can compete in the WCC and defeated a number of their teams over the past 9 years – including St. Mary’s. Get a conference that people respect and they will come. DU is not guaranteed of being in this strong of a position in the future. The time is now – the RPI will come.

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  3. No way Denver basketball could compete in the Big East. Millions of dollars would have to be put into the program. Recruiting would have to become nationwide. I don’t know if DU hoops is fully funded.

    When DU moved to the Summit I believe one of the reasons was travel. Summit schools are “closer” geographically to fly to. Lacrosse may make 2-3 Big East road trips a season. Basketball would make more. And playing in the Big East also means beefing up the out-of-conference schedule.

    Denver doesn’t have the talent to compete in the Big East. It can’t win a title in the Summit!

    Big East basketball is a pipe dream. There’s no benefit to the Big East taking DU hoops. DU is a non-known entity in hoops.

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  4. I am not sure DU’s bargaining position is much stronger now, even with the uptick in national performance across many of our sports. These conferences where we’d like to be are all driven by men’s hoops rpi, and right now, we’re program 194 out of 360. It’s not bad per say, but there is a long way to build.

    If the WCC (or Big East) opportunities ever do present themselves, DU should jump in right away. Historically, the WCC’s primary reservation with DU was the location away from the West Coast primary footprint of the league. I am sure playing BYU in Provo for the last few years has eased that distance concern a bit, and if they do come looking for a new member if BYU leaves, I hope DU is in the consideration set. DU certainly fits the WCC profile in terms of size, private school and academics.

    The Big East has spread to Omaha already with Creighton University, so distance is less of a concern for them than RPI, which has a long way to go for DU, since the Big East (Conference #4 in RPI) is tougher than the WCC (Conference #14 in RPI). There are a lot of schools with better hoops RPIs and closer to the primary footprint in the East, so that is a longshot for DU. But having the Big East lax ties at least gets us on their radar.

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  5. While I agree with gunners that DU would face an uphill battle in Big East men’s basketball I would not rule out that conference as a potential fit. The Big East changed significantly in 2012-13 when the non-football schools split from the rest and took the Big East name with them. All current full members of the Big East are private institutions (all Catholic except for Butler). DU actually has more students than Villanova, Butler, Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton, and Marquette and a comparable endowment to most, although obviously lacking in basketball tradition.

    That being said, I do think the WCC is the dream conference for DU. Like the Big East all members are private institutions with solid academic reputations. All have less than 10,000 students except for BYU which is a glaring outlier at 34,000. DU’s basketball program already compares favorably to San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Portland, Loyola Marymount and Pacific over recent years and all had RPI worse than us in 2015-16. The fact that the WCC accepted Pacific in 2013 should bode well for DU – their MBB team was 6-20 this year and ranked #265 in RPI. Men’s baseball would seem to be the biggest hurdle for DU as all 10 full members field teams in that sport (and all but Pacific have men’s cross-country).

    Are there any major donors who would step up to help fund a men’s baseball program?

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  6. WCC has talked to DU about baseball before, but that would be costly. Baseball is a probably a $2-3 million minimum spend, and DU would also have to bring on a women’s team for Title IX reasons, likely softball or perhaps rowing. That’s probably another couple of million. Could perhaps upgrade DPS facilities across I-25 to D-I standards in return for scheduling and practice priority, but no room for on-campus facility, which hurts. Baseball in Colorado is a bad weather bet, and there are few local opponents, too. That’s why the sport was dropped by DU in the late 90s.

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  7. Came across the cautionary article below. Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU have dominated the WCC in MBB in recent years but are expressing some frustration with the weaker members dragging down the league RPI. Meanwhile the weaker programs are burning through coaches (four replaced this off-season). This year, the WCC was only ranked No. 14 as a conference in RPI, sporting six teams sub-200. http://www.slipperstillfits.com/2016/3/15/11239888/wcc-coaching-gonzaga-mark-few-comments

    Making the NCAA tournament in either new conference would be a huge challenge but DU Athletics has not shied away from such challenges in other sports. Both the Big East and WCC would seem to have ideal profiles to draw a lot more basketball fans to Magness Arena than the Summit League, WAC or Sun Belt. The Big East is full of historic basketball schools, including the current national champions Villanova, and has some big name coaches (Jay Wright, Hall of Famer Chris Mullin, John Thompson III). Meanwhile the WCC has Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s (with its pipeline of Australian players including Cleveland Cavalier Matthew Delladova), and also has some well-known coaches – Mark Few (Gonzaga), ex-NBA player Damon Stoudamire (Pacific), ex-NBA player and coach Terry Porter (new at Portland), former NC State and ASU coach Herb Sendek (new at Santa Clara). Both conferences likely have many alumni in the Denver metro area.

    The Big East has 24 former players currently in NBA (6th amongst all conferences) coming from 8 member schools. WCC has 4 current NBA players coming from only 2 schools (Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s). http://rpiratings.com/NBA.php

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  8. Butler is not Catholic. It was founded as a Christian college in 1855 but today is non-sectarian. Butler is somewhat like DU, which was once a Methodist school, but is today non-sectarian.

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  9. Slightly off topic but somewhat related…..Has there been any talk or speculation of DU hockey going to the BIG? There’s been all sorts of chatter of the BIG possibly going after UND but was wondering if any other NCHC schools-DU in particular-have been mentioned as possible 8th members. And if so, would DU-a charter member of the NCHC-bolt for the BIG if offered?

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  10. Those decisions likely won’t be based on hockey, and I will share the reason why — the Big 10 has never taken a school that is not a global research leader in any sport. DU is not that kind of university – DU is a teaching focused university. The only affiliate the Big 10 has taken so far (in the modern era) is Johns Hopkins for Lacrosse, and Hopkins is the largest research university in the country, based on its medical enterprise, spending over $2 billion last year. North Dakota is not a research school, either. I don’t see an invitation coming anytime soon.

    However, if the Big 10 were to abandon academic research as a criteria for affiliate membership, and based league membership decision entirely on adding prestigious hockey programs, DU and North Dakota would be high on the expansion list. Other Big 10 schools are not yet adding hockey anytime soon, and I can see the Big 10 staying where it is.

    Ultimately, a school has to take the opportunities in its best interest, and if the invitation ever did come from the Big 10, DU would be foolish not to take it. The Big 10 has its own TV network, big resources and big fan bases. But until that day comes, the NCHC is a great conference for DU Hockey. I only wish the majority of other DU sports teams were in conferences with that kind of high standing in the sports they sponsor.

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