Now that the Big 12 appears closer than ever to death, the obvious question becomes which direction makes the most sense for Kansas University. All indications are north is not an option because the Big Ten isn’t interested. So it boils down to east or west.
This conference realignment mess is all about football, remember? Well, it is for most universities, but for KU, it always has to be about men’s basketball because that program markets the university more significantly than the rest of the teams combined. The history is that rich, the success that mind-boggling, the coach that telegenic.
So, east or west?
Easy. East. Exposure falls way short for basketball programs that play out west, in part because the games are played too late for much of the country to follow and in part because most of the high-profile announcers who promote the game so relentlessly don’t live out there.
OK, so the Jayhawks can’t go north and have reason not to want to go west. So they go east, but to which conference, the Big East or the ACC?
The ACC wins that battle academically, and the allure of playing Duke and North Carolina twice a year in basketball certainly can’t be denied.
Nice destination, but the ACC isn’t the Big East in basketball because no conference is the Big East in basketball. Look what Jim Calhoun has been able to do with his coaching talent and the bright Big East lights at a school that didn’t have a great basketball tradition before his arrival. Calhoun has won three national titles in the past 13 years and won his first at the age of 56. Playing in the Big East prepares teams better for the NCAA Tournament than any conference. Calhoun won his third national title even though the Huskies were no better than a No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament.
Kansas plays in the Big East, and it brings the success it already is encountering recruiting in the East up a couple of notches. It also brings so much exposure to the university — some New Yorkers will fall in love with the Jayhawk mascot, others will fall in love with hating it — that in the long run it will improve the school’s academic standing by increasing the number of out-of-state applicants.
What do all the biggest names in Big East basketball coaching — Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino — have in common? Every one of them is at least 10 years older than Self. When they retire, the Big East still will be the Big East, but it won’t be their Big East. It will be Self’s.
Some think the 20-team basketball conference would feature five four-team pods in which each school plays pod-mates twice a year and some, but not all, other schools once a year. Here’s a better idea: Play a 20-game conference schedule with a pair of games against a designated rival and one game against everybody else. Coaches would hate it because it would taint their winning percentages, but networks would love it because Big East games draw big ratings, the more games the better.
A football West Division in which Kansas joins Cincinnati, Kansas State, Louisville, Missouri and TCU has appeal.
Missouri needs to get over itself, realize the Big Ten isn’t interested and convince KU to continue the great rivalry by making the jump to the Big East.