There are 30 conference tournaments over this two-week period that began March 6. Only four of those feature the same schools last year, this year and next year. And one of those four, the Big Ten, will add two schools in 2014-15.
The Big East is splitting into two conferences. The ACC is taking on two new members. The year after that, it’ll add two more — unless Notre Dame and Louisville can figure out a way to come aboard sooner.
And relatively, that’s nothing. Conference USA is losing four members — and adding seven. The Western Athletic Conference will stage a 10-team conference tournament beginning Tuesday in Las Vegas. Four of those members are playing in their first WAC tournament — and simultaneously in their last. Six new schools will play in the event next year, when it may or may not be in Vegas, when it may or may not take place on a campus, but when it definitely won’t have any sort of tradition.
“We have kind of a revolving door of members,” said Jeff Hurd, who took over last year as, fittingly, the WAC’s interim commissioner. “It’s very difficult to establish continuity, to find a foothold in any area, when you have members coming and going on an annual basis.”
The focus of the shifts will, this week, be squarely on New York, where the Big East tournament will be toasted and eulogized through the championship game Saturday night. Seven of the current members of the 15-school league will depart in the offseason, taking the name and keeping the right to play the championship at Madison Square Garden, where it has been held since 1983. The tournament could be won by one of those schools: Georgetown is the top seed, and it will lead the so-called “Catholic Seven” into a new world under the Big East banner.
But it also could be won by, say, Syracuse, which will join Pittsburgh in leaving for the ACC this fall. Or it could be won by Louisville, which will also join the ACC, but not until 2014. That’s the same year Rutgers splits for the Big Ten. But next season, Rutgers will be involved in a morphed version of the old Big East — possibly called the “America 12” — that will welcome Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU and Temple.
“We’ve lost one of the great college basketball conferences we’ve ever known: the Big East,” said Jay Bilas, who will serve as an analyst of the tournament for ESPN. “It’s done. It’s gone. And there’s sorrow that goes with that.
“And this whole shift, it’s going to keep happening. Nobody’s going to stop this by saying, ‘Hey, a rivalry is going away.’ It’s going to reach its intended conclusion, and that’s to maximize revenue over fewer units.”