Realignment not as bad as we think

From retro Big East to the new-look ACC, plenty of positives with realignment

Originally Published: July 8, 2013
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

What if we were all wrong?

What if all the fretting, caterwauling and bemoaning of conference realignment and its horrific effects on college basketball turns out to be just a bunch of hot air (present company's contribution to the conversation ozone included)?

What if this ends up being a not awful thing?

Certainly not a perfect thing. Anything that sounds the death knell on storied rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Georgetown-Syracuse can't claim to be perfect.

And not a good thing, never a good thing, because not even Coke-bottle-thick, rose-colored glasses could call what's transpired recently in college athletics good.

[+] EnlargeGeorgetown vs. Syracuse
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IISure, we'll miss seeing Georgetown and Syracuse play, but good basketball and new rivalries will take some of the sting off.

And certainly not a well-intentioned thing. The path to all of this shake-up and confusion was paved in dollar bills, not academic prestige, collegiality or any other faux virtue anyone in an ivy-covered office tries to peddle. But what if it isn't thoroughly awful?

Take a gander at all of the changes on the college basketball landscape for 2013-14 (or better than that, print it out so you can remember that Abilene Christian, a newly minted Division I team, is in the Southland Conference).

It's not that bad.

And considering what might have been, that's pretty good.

Maybe it's because we've been beaten into submission. For a while there, while the football brokers and pigskin purists made decisions for themselves and themselves alone -- the Road Movie, Morgantown, W.Va., to Lubbock, Texas; Death of a Rivalry, Kansas versus Missouri; Death of a Rivalry II, Syracuse versus Georgetown -- it looked as though this could be a lot worse.

After all, we've been snookered that way before. When the NCAA proposed a tournament field of 96 but instead went with 68, play-in games didn't seem so terrible. So the whole "this isn't as bad as it could have been" notion is part of it. But there's also the fact that out of the ashes of realignment, basketball has not emerged as the biggest loser.

The Big East died, but it was reborn, and as sequels go, it certainly beats "Jaws 4: The Revenge." The old league had expanded itself into an identity crisis, a basketball conference forced to cater to football. Now having finally and forcibly extricated itself from football, the league is not just made up of like-minded schools, but like-minded schools that are about hoops first, second and last. It is a Retro Big East.

[+] EnlargeBuzz Williams
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanHow about this for some Buzz? The new Big East will begin conference play on Dec. 31 with a five-game marathon.

The league announced that it will launch conference play on New Year's Eve with a five-game, all-teams-included marathon, culminating with Marquette versus Creighton at 10 p.m. That's not a bad way to kick start a new year or a new league.

Perhaps unintentionally, the ACC has rediscovered its roots, too. The conference always imagined and positioned itself as a basketball hometown, but until very recently, its address covered the stretch between Chapel Hill and Durham and little else. The re-emergence of NC State, Miami and Florida State added some depth, there's no arguing that, but with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, the league is downright nasty.

As in good nasty. Syracuse-Duke may not have the heated history of Syracuse-Georgetown (if someday the Orange get a new home court, it's hard to imagine Mike Krzyzewski officially closing the Dome), but it'll make for good basketball.

On the undercard, the Mountain West bolstered its roster by adding Utah State. It's not a sexy addition -- sexy and Utah go together only in the Miss USA pageant, and even then, it didn't go so well this year -- but it's a good one. BYU already has proved to be a good addition to the West Coast Conference. Ditto Missouri in the SEC. That Nebraska is even grabbing headlines (nabbing a former Georgetown assistant, opening new facilities) is a good sign for coach Tim Miles in the Big Ten. And, well, West Virginia can only go up in the Big 12 standings.

At the same time, let's not get ahead of ourselves. This is not utopia. There are still plenty of flaws.

The Amalgamation Associations of the American Athletic Conference and Conference USA are both marriages of convenience and shotgun nuptials. The American is League Limbo, and with Louisville and Rutgers not even committed to the letterhead. (If the Cardinals repeat as national champions, they will have acquired two trophies from two different leagues and be in neither of them come 2014.)

Cincinnati and Connecticut would love for the phone to ring. Yes, UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said the Huskies are done chasing other conferences, but that's akin to a teenage girl saying she's not chasing boys, but hey, if one calls …

Conference USA, meanwhile, managed to outdo its original self with its hodgepodge of membership. Its 16 schools call nine different states home, stretching from Norfolk, Va., to El Paso, Texas, a commute of a mere 2,000-plus miles. The Atlantic 10, once as good as if not better than some of the power conferences in college basketball, took a hit with the defections of Temple, Xavier, Charlotte and Butler. And a moment of silence for the departed Great West (plus $20 to anyone who can name all of the former members; $50 if you know where they all are now).

Still, if you remember the darkest days -- the period, for example, when it seemed the Big 12 might die and Kansas (Kansas!) would be without a home -- basketball has emerged from the scourge of conference realignment better off than the doomsday predictions could have indicated.

And in the grand scheme of things, that's not too bad, which, all things considered, is pretty good.

Editor's Note: To catch up on all of the conference changes, read our realignmnet primer here. And then check out Jason King's basketball winners and losers from the new college landscape.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball