You haven’t seen any screaming hot conference realignment takes here on Anonymous Eagle because.... well, because none of it matters to the Big East. If someone had pulled the trigger on grabbing Connecticut up, I would have been happy to talk about the impact on Marquette’s home conference. The biggest potential impact, by the way? If UConn leaves — not just for a power conference, if they leave at all — between now and the start of the 2026-27 season, the Huskies still owe the Big East a $30 million exit fee. Is that the reason why no one has grabbed up UConn? Who can say?
Anyway, there hasn’t been much to talk about, so I just let the cards fall where they may. However, thanks to the musings of Long Time Friend Of The Show @dwalsh76 via text message, I was suddenly struck by an impact on the Big East by all of the shuffling that’s happened over the last few weeks.
I think the Big East/Big 12 Battle is about to get less interesting.
Now, to be clear, the yearly contest between the two conferences is currently slated to end after the set of games as part of the 2024-25 season. Maybe that changes, as the last extension of the deal came right before what would have been the final year of the original deal, but maybe it doesn’t. In fact, it’s possible that the sudden expansion of the Big 12 brings it to an end anyway.
Here’s my point.
For the 2023-24 season, the Battle will be an 11 game series. This is because the Big East has 11 teams playing men’s basketball, while the Big 12 has 14 this season. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF have joined the Big 12, moving their total teams upwards by four. When the two season extension was struck a year ago, it was struck under the idea that the Big 12 would be dropping to 12 teams as Texas and Oklahoma depart for the SEC. 11 Big East teams, 12 Big 12 teams, someone (coughUCFcough) from their conference sits out, no problem.
That departure is still happening, but that’s not the only change to the Big 12’s lineup.
Starting next year, the Big 12 will be a 16 team league. Commissioner Brett Yormark has engineered the addition of Colorado, and then eight days later, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as the Pac-12 crumbles to dust before our very eyes.
Here’s where the “it gets less interesting” comes in.
When it was a 10 team Big East and a 10 team Big 12, this was all great news, because every single team on both sides had to play someone every single year. No one could duck out because things were off balance. With an 11 team Big East and a 10 team Big 12, someone had to sit out, but only one team. Same for when the Big 12 went to 12 teams as expected. Credit where credit is due to the Big 12, as they intentionally kept three of their four new men’s hoops teams out of the 2023-24 edition of the Battle, and the only one they included was Houston, the program that’s gone to at least the Sweet 16 in each of the past four NCAA tournaments.
But when there’s 16 teams in that league? That means five Big 12 teams have to sit on the sideline, and quite honestly, the five that sit out should be rotating every year.
That means that these teams have to rotate in:
- Colorado, who hasn’t made consecutive NCAA tournaments since 2014.
- Arizona State, who has made consecutive NCAA tournaments just once — 2018 and 2019 — since the 1960s.
- BYU, who holds a reputation as a respectable basketball program, but hasn’t made consecutive NCAA tournaments since 2015.
- UCF, who has made the NCAA tournament just five times since joining Division 1 in 1984.
Yes, it also means that there will be games with Cincinnati, a program that has been mostly successful over the past 30 years but is going through a shake or two since Mick Cronin took the UCLA job. Yes, it also means that there will be games with Arizona, a program with a very long history of success that’s bouncing back from some trouble with two great seasons under Tommy Lloyd.
It also means that programs like Kansas and Baylor, two of the last three national champions, will be cycled out. I could keep poking at all of the other six long term members of the conference, but the fact of the matter is that any of them provided an interesting matchup for any team in the Big East. Everyone in the Big 12 was regarded as a team that could reasonably say “we should make the NCAA tournament every single year” as a basic program expectation, even if the pure math of the situation obviously had to make that not the case by the time March rolled around. Look, there’s a reason why we asked if Bruce Weber was the worst coach in the league back in 2018, because it wasn’t weird that a guy in the midst of a three year NCAA tournament run was the worst coach in the league because that’s how well everyone else was doing.
But that’s going to end, and it’s going to make the Big East/Big 12 Battle less interesting. Sure, we could still see UConn/Houston or Creighton/Arizona or Marquette/Kansas.
But we’re probably also going to have to subject ourselves to DePaul/UCF along the way, and that’s a much worse outcome than anyone wants.
Or maybe the series just isn’t renewed after the 2024-25 season, and we don’t really have to worry about this! Is that better for Marquette, since it will give them more freedom in scheduling? Let me know what you think in the comments.