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The bright side of blowing up the Big East

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer
If the Big East dies, there could be a basketball-only league formed that college hoops would benefit from. (Getty Images)

Hard as it is to believe, if the Big East is fated to go up in flames, the ashes could produce something that's compatible, if not totally comparable, to what the Big East became in the past 25 years.

That is to say, a really nice conference filled with really good basketball programs. Some concept, huh?

For now, let's do our best to put aside any anger, depression, confusion, frustration and curse-laden tirades directed toward the soulless retinues responsible for reaching into the chest of the Big East, mangling its most vital organs, who are now watching it stagger out its last steps before ceasing to be. Let's ... let's just put all those feelings in a box over there for a minute and look to what the future could and should bring.

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DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova are preparing to take one leap together and wave buh-bye to the conference that first gave them stability, then power, then relevance (well, save DePaul; silly ol' DePaul), plus ultimately an identity and sustenance in college basketball's countryside. And I can't find a reason to blame them for banding together and turning their backs on the rest of the schools that let football ruin basketball's best federation.

The "Catholic 7" had no say for so long and now have raged against, taken the power back, and in doing so have to sacrifice something bigger than themselves in order to save themselves. It hurts college basketball as a whole, but is what they're doing really all that different from any other major realignment move over the past 18 months? Actually, you know what? It is. This is actually a positive move for college athletics and college basketball. Rare, that. I find no ire for these hoops-driven universities who have to find a way to survive -- and survive on their terms.

Their terms could end up being really good for college hoops fans. It's looking like we're going to have a new league to watch. With this new, to-be-configured union, the Catholic 7 is going to recruit other schools to join them. How many? Don't know. Who? Don't exactly know, but we have an idea. Within that group, does it matter who's picked? Hardly. Because the odds are the Catholic 7 -- none of whom boast FBS football teams, so figure they'll court like-minded Atlantic 10 schools, mostly -- will want to prevent ever having to go through this again. (I remain skeptical that can be accomplished for the next 50 years, but that's beside the point.)

We can worry about the details after the dynamite is detonated once and for all on the Big East. Again, let's check our watches here ... yeah, it seems inevitable. Wow. That league is actually getting nuked. Sorry to bring it up again, but I feel the need every four minutes or so because, hello, this is the damn Big East we're talking about.

And once it's gone with a few flicks of signatures, the chase is on to get a Xavier, or a Dayton, or a Butler, or a UMasss, or even a Missouri Valley team or two. Creighton sounds nice. What about George Mason from the CAA? There are more than a dozen good-to-really-good college basketball programs being targeted for a new league.

Point is, like the Atlantic 10 and CAA are now, we'd have another basketball-only league, but beyond that, we'd have the best basketball-only league. Forget a 21-team Atlantic 10. That's not likely to happen. There will be the Atlantic 10, and then there will be whatever this Big East spin-off morphs into. It wouldn't be as good as the ACC or even Big Ten right away, but it would have cachet, especially if it was at an even 10 teams.

Some have suggested going to strictly 10 teams, thereby enabling a traditional, 18-game round-robin schedule and boom: plenty of space for good nonconference games, in addition to a fair league slate. It'd be great, really. And within college basketball, it would generate interest and be about as viable as whatever the 2015 version of the Big East was hurtling toward. A league of the Catholic 7 plus (and I'm just tossing out three random programs here) Dayton, Xavier and Saint Louis would be worthy of at least, minimally, four bids per year, on average.

A melted-down-and-molded-again Big East is going to have an ersatz feel to it, no doubt. We're never getting back to the glory days. Madison Square Garden might ultimately be done with hosting March hoops outside of the NCAA tournament, and that's a shame, worth a column unto itself. And what happens to Memphis, UConn, Cincinnati, Tulane and all the other C-USA transplants is still up in the air. The whole thing is truly a disaster, and the miasma will hover over college basketball for years to come.

But there is a benefit to the fallout, and if the Catholic 7 stays true to itself and can woo the right school or three, college basketball will be better -- and I can't even believe I'm saying this -- for having blown up the Big East.

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