Tuesday, July 3, 2012
The new kids in the neighborhood
By Andy Katz ESPN.com
On Sunday, 20 schools officially became members of a new conference.
Few, if any, make as much sense as TCU's move to the Big 12.
The Horned Frogs earned the invitation through their football program's national profile, but now men's basketball at least has a chance. TCU always seemed like a geographic outcast in the WAC and then the Mountain West. Heading to the Big East would've presented the same problem.
That's not an issue in the Big 12, where Fort Worth will be in the heart of Big 12 country right alongside old Southwest Conference rivals at Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech -- not to mention powerhouse Kansas and the nearby Oklahoma schools.
"It's a beautiful thing,'' said TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, whose campaign to get the Horned Frogs into the Big 12 will go down as his lasting legacy. "We've got the fans and the rivalries back that we had in the old Southwest Conference. There is such great familiarity.''
Will that make a difference in the win column, though? In the past 40 years, TCU has been to two NCAA tournaments (1987, '98).
Del Conte said for the Frogs to survive in the Big 12, they must update the antiquated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum -- and the fundraising has begun.
"I have to remodel it and renovate it,'' he said. "We have to have the facilities that are the very best. We've got a great practice facility that was built in 2004. Daniel-Meyer hasn't changed since 1968, '78, '98. We built what is the Camden Yards of football stadiums, and now we have to take that same concept to men's and women's basketball.''
The original move to the Big East was made for BCS access, he said, not geography. Now TCU has made a move for both.
It will be a season of firsts at TCU, which debuts in the Big 12 with new coach Trent Johnson.
Jim Christian won't be making that move, however. After a respectable 18-15 season, the former coach left TCU to go back to the MAC at Ohio.
Del Conte landed Trent Johnson, who doesn't have natural ties to the Metroplex but is as energized about a fresh start as he has been in any of his previous three spots (Nevada, Stanford, LSU).
"I've always had the energy, but this conference move to the Big 12, the private factor and the education here and the proximity to players,'' Johnson said. "We're being perceived with some curiosity and a wait-and-see attitude, as it should be. It's going to be tough and a challenge.''
Johnson said that he and Del Conte have discussed the geographic location of TCU at length and the benefits of the move to the Big 12. He said the timing is perfect.
"All of the competition in the league comes here to the Dallas-Fort Worth area,'' Johnson said. "The timing is right.''
Johnson said he's not worried about the ability to raise funds to upgrade Daniel-Meyer.
"That's going to happen,'' he said. "The next step is the locker rooms and those kinds of things. The most important thing moving forward is recruiting and getting guys to understand that you can get a topflight education and play basketball. The athletic department had success in the Mountain West, and the next logical step was the Big 12.''
Nineteen other teams officially joined a conference on Sunday.
ESPN.com asked representatives from each school to describe in their own words what it means to the men's basketball program and what challenges are ahead.
Only one -- Denver -- declined to comment. The Pioneers left the Sun Belt for the WAC, but the latter conference is quickly falling apart and to this point has only DU, Seattle, Idaho and New Mexico State lined up for the 2013-14 season. Denver is desperate to be invited to the West Coast Conference, according to a source. But the WCC isn't interested at this juncture.
[Editor's Note: In addition to these 20, Northern Kentucky is moving from Division II. The Norse will join the Atlantic Sun, but will be a provisional DI member and not eligible for the postseason]
Here are the others:
West Virginia (Big East to Big 12)The move: The Mountaineers will immediately be a player in the Big 12 under Bob Huggins. The travel will be an issue for WVU and every other team coming to Morgantown. But the Eers will deliver another home run home court in a league that has plenty of them. Do they fit better in the Big East? Of course. This was a survival move for football. But the basketball program won't have an issue settling into its strange new home.
Coach Bob Huggins: "I think there is a lot of excitement. We were in the Big East for 16 years, and any time there is something new it maybe is a little refreshing and exciting. The [fans] are certainly looking forward to Big 12 teams coming to Morgantown. I think it is great because we have a round-robin schedule, and they will get to see all the teams. In the Big East, I think we played at Syracuse four years in a row and Louisville played at our place four years in a row. So you don't get to see all those teams. You don't get to quite develop the rivalries like you do when you play teams on a home-at-home basis.
"It's so much of a college atmosphere at all of those schools. It's just an incredible student involvement. There's so much energy in those arenas. Going to Stillwater is unbelievable, and Iowa State is absolutely crazy. Going to Lawrence is nothing you've ever seen with the 'Rock Chalk Jayhawk.' And then there's the 'Wabash Cannonball' at Kansas State.
"I looked around at our Big 12 meetings in the spring, and out of the 10 coaches, five of them have been in the Final Four. What other conference can say 50 percent of its coaches have been to a Final Four, and I think three of them multiple times?"
Athletic director Oliver Luck: "I think we're going to be as prepared as we can. Certainly in football with the coaches we have, with a good bit of experience in the Big 12 starting with coach [Dana] Holgorsen. And then with Coach Huggins, who spent a year at Kansas State, he's been at every one of the Big 12 basketball arenas, I think that really is going to help us."
Missouri (Big 12 to SEC)The move: The Tigers were desperate to get out of the Big 12, even if it meant cutting ties with ancient rival Kansas. Football may take some time to adjust to the SEC dominance, but the basketball program will quickly become a player in the SEC. Expect Missouri to be a top-four finisher and an NCAA tournament team in its first season.
Coach Frank Haith: "We are leaving one great basketball league for another, so I believe the challenges will be similar. The SEC has won three of the last seven national titles, and you have a great mix of established and growing programs. Obviously the league is filled with talented coaches and players. We saw 12 guys from the league drafted last week, so you are playing against some of the top talent in the game night in and night out. We played 18 league games last year, so that will be similar, but there will be new opportunities as well, new teams, new venues and new styles."
Texas A&M (Big 12 to the SEC)The move: This was a football decision first, second and last. But the Aggies have exceptionally strong support in all programs and depth in their athletic department. The Ags finally had their footing in Big 12 hoops after a number of inactive years. Coach Billy Kennedy has roots in the Southeast and should be able to adapt quickly.
Coach Billy Kennedy: "The toughest challenge is getting our fans to understand how tough the league is in basketball. The SEC is an underrated basketball conference. I felt like we have been in the conference for a long time -- great to know it's official.''
Butler (Horizon to Atlantic 10)The move: Butler has been the dominant program in the Horizon League, so its departure was a crushing blow to the future relevance of the conference. The Bulldogs instantly become one of the favorites in the A-10 and a program to emulate for every other league member not named Xavier.
Coach Brad Stevens: "It's a great opportunity for Butler for a lot of reasons. I'm most looking forward to the challenge of preparing our team to play against new styles, systems and programs.''
Virginia Commonwealth (CAA to Atlantic 10)The move: VCU had no choice once the CAA enforced its bylaw preventing the Rams from competing in the conference tournament. The A-10 was opening its arms to the Rams for this season, so VCU jumped at the chance. The Rams fit in the footprint of the A-10 -- giving it a natural rival with in-state Richmond -- and facilities are in line with other league schools. VCU, a season removed from a Final Four, will jump to the front of the bus in the league and compete for a league championship with the conference's traditional elite.
Coach Shaka Smart: "Joining the A-10 definitely presents a terrific challenge for our team. First of all, it's a huge league with a wide diversity of playing and coaching styles. It's a step up in terms of size and athleticism. We'll also need to be ready to deal with some very tough places to play. Our guys are excited about the opportunity."
Nevada (WAC to Mountain West)The move: Nevada was passed over before but finally had an opening to get into the MWC and join in-state rival UNLV. This move makes perfect sense for the Wolf Pack, and there is no reason that Reno can't be a tough out for opposing teams in this league.
Coach David Carter: "For men's basketball, the Mountain West Conference will provide stability with very competitive and strong basketball programs. The conference will broaden our recruiting base and a positive name recognition of schools. We have several challenges. The biggest challenge is upgrading our facilities to be competitive in the MWC."
Fresno State (WAC to Mountain West)The move: The Bulldogs were passed over a number of times during realignment discussions and have consistently felt inferior to some of their brethren. So landing this spot, a year earlier than Utah State and San Jose State, is a huge boost for Fresno. The Bulldogs should be able to compete in recruiting and facilities in the newly aligned MWC, which is essentially all the old WAC members.
Coach Rodney Terry: "Moving into a conference like the Mountain West, which is one of the premier basketball leagues in the country, elevates everything in your program. Recruiting is at another level. Exposure is taken to another level. We'll always have a great nonconference schedule, but it helps attract scheduling opportunities and generates excitement in our community.
"First off, we have to get acclimated and understand what is in front of us. We are going to play in tough venues against high-level talent and great coaching every time out. We have to embrace this culture."
AD Thomas Boeh: "Membership in the Mountain West creates long-desired stability for Fresno State Athletics and greatly enhances our collective motivation and enthusiasm for the program's continued progression. Stability is derived from the fact that the Mountain West membership represents a geographically coherent group of like-minded institutions. At the same time, our University and the community of the San Joaquin Valley are deeply committed to the sustained growth of the program."
Hawaii (WAC to Big West)The move: Hawaii is splitting its major programs, much like Boise State and San Diego State will do in 2013 and exactly what BYU has done with football independence and the rest of its sports in the WCC. The Warriors will play football in the MWC but place the rest of its sports in the Big West. The men's basketball program could be a contender with Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and new member SDSU in 2013.
Coach Gib Arnold: "It's a positive. We do a lot of recruiting in Southern California, and we like to think of Los Angeles as our recruiting hub. We can sell the fact to parents that they they'll see their son every other weekend.
"There is familiarity with opponents. We've played some of the programs over the years, however, it's a new league, some new coaches and some getting used to. The RPI of the Big West is a step down from the WAC, however, the prestige of the league will improve greatly with the entry of San Diego State"
AD Jim Donovan: "We housed our women's sports for 12 years in the Big West, so there is a familiarity there. People know what Hawaii brings to the table. It's a strong conference in baseball, volleyball and softball, sports that we believe we can be competitive in. We'll have to pay about $500,000 per year in travel subsidies, though we will not be obligated to pay subsidies for members, such as San Diego State, who come on board after UH. We will not receive subsidies for our travel to the mainland, but there should be cost savings for no longer having to journey to WAC venues in Louisiana, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico.''
Texas-San Antonio (Southland to WAC)The move: UTSA was the most coveted of the Texas schools in the Southland. The WAC got in the San Antonio market first for 2012, but Conference USA saw a golden opportunity to nab the Roadrunners when it needed members for 2013, so it'll be a one-and-done stay in the WAC.
Coach Brooks Thompson: "We look forward to facing the challenges this move to the WAC will bring. Obviously, it presents a higher level of competition and probably a little more difficult of a travel schedule, but it also helps to increase the quality of player we are able to recruit to our university."
AD Lynn Hickey: "Joining the WAC means UTSA has met one of its goals: to be invited to an FBS-level conference. Our coaches understand that this move means a step up in level of competition. It means we all have to work harder to keep our teams competitive, and I believe we will."
Texas-Arlington (Southland to WAC)
The move: UTA is also in an odd position, playing in the WAC for one season before going to the Sun Belt. This is a fledgling program with a new arena and fertile recruiting ground that probably is pleased to be wanted by multiple leagues.
Coach Scott Cross: "It means that we have an opportunity to play against some nationally recognized programs that have great basketball traditions. The WAC has a great name and has been a great conference for the past 50 years. The toughest challenges will be the extensive travel and trying to win a championship against teams that have had strong basketball over the years like Utah State and New Mexico State, among others."
Texas State (Southland to WAC) The move: Texas State is a growing institution in fertile recruiting territory. Like UTA and UTSA, the Bobcats will spend just one season in the WAC before moving on -- in their case to the Sun Belt.
Coach Doug Davalos: "The move to FBS football was the most significant aspect of the move to take our athletic program to the next level. Since we will only be in the WAC for one season before moving on to the Sun Belt, there is no real acclimation period for our program. We will have to adjust [recruiting, scheduling, etc.] quickly to our new surroundings. Having the financial resources in our budgets to adjust and compete at the top of these conferences will be a challenge."
AD Larry Teis: "It means we have elevated our entire university to another status, not just the athletic department but the entire university. We have already seen greater media exposure locally due to the move, and this gives us the opportunity for greater national awareness. As we move towards a Tier 1 research university, the athletic department plays a part in the university's overall mission. Our athletic department has made a tremendous investment the past several years, and we will continue to do so in the future. This athletic department move means our university is prepared to take the next step.
The toughest challenge will be to educate our administration, fans, alumni and everyone else in the Texas State family that this move is costly, and we need to continue to provide the financial resources to move forward."
Oral Roberts (Summit to Southland)The move: ORU had been one of the most consistent programs in the Summit despite losing out to North Dakota State, Oakland and South Dakota State recently in getting the AQ. Getting to the tournament always went through Tulsa. But the Summit's loss is the Southland's gain. ORU will give the Southland instant name recognition for a league that lacked a recognizable name to the mainstream fan.
Coach Scott Sutton: "This is a great move for our athletic department and university. Geographically it makes a lot of sense, and we are excited about developing new rivalries. We know that takes time for our fan base to get familiar with the teams in the Southland. The biggest challenge is that we are unfamiliar with the league, with the teams and even the cities. We know there will be an adjustment period for all of our programs as we go into the new conference."
Belmont (Atlantic Sun to Ohio Valley)The move: The Bruins have been one of the most successful programs in the A-Sun and are located in the central hub of the conference (Nashville). Belmont should expect to be pushing Murray State in the OVC.
Coach Rick Byrd: "People in Nashville know the OVC, they follow the teams and they know the tradition. From our standpoint, we hope for increased fan attendance and media coverage, particularly during conference play. In regards to challenges, my biggest challenge is getting our team mentally and physically ready to play every game, whether we're playing an Atlantic Sun opponent, an OVC opponent, or Kentucky or Duke. However, we are aware of the success that the OVC has had in recent NCAA tournaments, and what a school like Murray State has built over 20 to 30 years, and we will need to play at a high level to reach our goals."
AD Mike Strickland: "The OVC offers us countless opportunities as we continue to enhance the national profile of our men's basketball program. From local rivalries with schools that resonate with our fan base, to greater exposure on the ESPN family of networks through its partnership with the OVC, we see tremendous positives from this decision. The strength and depth of the OVC is undeniable, but we have full confidence in Coach Byrd, his players and the direction of our program."
North Dakota (Great West to Big Sky)The move: The Great West didn't have an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament and didn't get national media coverage. The Big Sky has a bid and the potential to get attention, certainly during Championship Week.
Coach Brian Jones: "Becoming an official member of the Big Sky will open new doors that we have not had available to us as a member of the Great West. In my opinion, recruiting and scheduling are the two most important areas in maintaining a consistent winning program. We've had to overcome so many obstacles when trying to attract the type of athletes that will allow us to compete for titles. In the beginning, it was all about being a part of the first Division I program in school history and the honor in that.
"Having a consistent schedule is going to be the biggest impact with joining the league. As a Great West member, we had to schedule 18 to 19 nonconference games each year, with the majority of those being on the road. Having a total of two home games for the months of December and February is what our schedule looked like in years past. The Big Sky will have 20 conference games, which brings a consistent flow to the schedule for the players and fans.
"We are still earning our way in Division I. The other members of the Big Sky have many more Division I recruiting classes under their belt than we do. So from a competition standpoint, we now have to be able to compete at a high level on a nightly basis. With 11 members, there will be quality depth, so there will be no nights off."
Southern Utah (Summit to Big Sky)The move: Getting past perennial powers Montana and Weber State won't be easy, but putting Southern Utah in a more natural regional fit, especially with an in-state rival (Weber), gives SUU a chance.
Coach Nick Robinson: "Moving into the Big Sky is a great opportunity for the Southern Utah men's basketball program. It provides us with the opportunity to play against some of the top teams here in the West, and it gives us more of a geographical advantage in terms of recruiting. There are some great teams in this league, and we're looking forward to competing in it.
"In terms of the biggest challenges, we'll be competing against new opponents we haven't seen over the past few years. Moving into a new conference is a challenge in itself, but being a new coach here in the Big Sky, everything is going to be pretty much new. I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
AD Ken Beazer: "This is a long-awaited day at Southern Utah University. It is something the school and the athletic department have worked toward and looked forward to ever since the University made the move to NCAA Division I competition back in 1987. It makes sense for our institution both academically and athletically. It's a good fit geographically, at the level we play, and our fans can resonate with the regional rivalries we will be building. It just makes sense.
"The big challenge is the mindset we have, after striving so long to become a member of the Big Sky. Now that we've reached our goal, our challenge is to switch our mindset to realize that today was not the finish line, it's actually the starting blocks, and now we have to move forward and look forward to being a contributing member."
Seattle (Division I independent to WAC)The move: Seattle has a proud history that includes Elgin Baylor and a national title game appearance, but that was ages ago. Seattle is climbing back out of a dormant stage, and coach Cameron Dollar has had a few successes so far. Getting into a league adds even more legitimacy. Now the Redhawks need to lobby hard to get into the WCC (although Gonzaga might have something to say about a league member in the same state), since the WAC is losing schools at a rapid rate.
Coach Cameron Dollar and AD Bill Hogan: "Seattle U is enthused about joining the WAC as it will enable us to qualify for NCAA Division I tournament bids in 17 sports for the first time in 33 years. We look forward to providing our student-athletes with outstanding opportunities.''
Longwood (Division I independent to Big South)The move: This is a survival decision by Longwood. Being a low-major independent is almost impossible. The Big South surrounds the Virginia school, so this is a solid move all around, especially geographically.
Coach Mike Gillian (through a news release): "There has been such a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and commitment put into developing our athletic programs over the past nine years that we all feel deserving of this fantastic opportunity joining the Big South presents to us. Being part of a league means everything. It gives us tangible championships and postseason opportunities to play for, and it validates all of the work that has gone into getting us to this point. Now the challenge is to honor the privilege of being a Big South member by competing, and succeeding, in the league the right way: with sportsmanship and integrity."
Nebraska-Omaha (from Division I indepenent to Summit)The move: Nebraska-Omaha won't be confused with the state-dominated school in Lincoln or Omaha's private basketball power in Creighton. But the Summit needed someone to replace Oral Roberts, and it traded Tulsa for Omaha, getting another decent-sized city in the region.
Coach Derrin Hansen: "This is our opportunity to play and recruit to the highest level of collegiate athletics. It not only helps our program, but it puts our university in a whole other spotlight to recruit student-athletes.
"With the opportunity to play in the CBI and CIT tournaments immediately, but not in the NCAA tournament or NIT until 2015-16, we have our challenges. Being able to turn over a good Division II roster to a Division I roster -- with depth -- doesn't happen overnight. We will play in the brand-new, 4,000-seat Ralston Sports and Events Center beginning this year. That clearly helps with recruiting and closes the gap on any facility issues that may occur with a transition. We have a Division I campus, a Division I facility, administrative support via contract and staff capabilities, and a very progressive and cosmopolitan city to recruit to. With time, any and all challenges can be met."
AD Trev Alberts: "First, it's exciting to see the institutional benefits that come with Division I athletics. The increased exposure, elevation of university profile and alignment with peer institutions become a reality. It also means significantly increased revenue opportunities in the form of game guarantees for our program and ticket sales to Division I games. And our students and coaches are excited about the increased level of competition and the opportunity to play programs like Wisconsin, Iowa State and Nebraska in 2012-13."
Editor's note: Which of these programs will be the most successful on the court in their first season? Dana O'Neil and Myron Medcalf make their choices in Take Two Tuesday.