The Big Blue Express is rolling, even with an occasional Boise State pothole. Men's hoops is ranked 11th and the nation knows Doug McDermott. Men's soccer is one game away from a second straight trip to the College Cup. Volleyball rides its best season ever into the NCAA tournament this weekend.
Three teams ranked in the Top 25. Five programs that are defending Missouri Valley Conference tournament champs (including women's hoops and baseball).
If you don't include football stadiums, Creighton has the best athletic facilities in college sports.
Yes, the Big Blue Express is chugging along through the seasons, plowing forward like the campus that sprawls in north downtown Omaha.
There's no reason to think it will stop anytime soon.
Wait a minute. What's that down the road?
Temptation? Sense of adventure? Ego?
A multi-car pileup? Or a better way?
The Big East is a mess. Louisville left for the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday. For those keeping score, that's seven schools that have bolted the Big East in the past year. Meanwhile, Connecticut and Cincinnati have their faces pressed against the window, begging for a way out.
This isn't over. It's just beginning. Again.
But this time, the tentacles of college sports madness may reach all the way to your friendly neighborhood sports machine.
Officials at Creighton are monitoring the situation. And here's what they're watching: the mood of the private schools in the Big East.
Georgetown. St. John's. Villanova. Providence. Seton Hall. Marquette. DePaul. Reportedly that group has had serious talks about leaving the Big East and forming a new group of private schools serious about hoops.
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Nothing's happened — yet — but the hoops-driven group has had it up to the backboard with the Big East adding San Diego State, Boise State, SMU and now Tulane and East Carolina. A watered-down league chasing a football payday that will never come.
Of course, if the private schools do form their own club, they will be taking applications.
Will Creighton be one of them?
Should Creighton be one of them?
These are two different questions. And there are no easy answers coming from The Hilltop.
I met Wednesday with the Rev. Timothy Lannon, Creighton's president. Wearing a blue and black Creighton sweater on game day, he's very much a sports president. And very much in tune with the combustible climate out there.
A former president of St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, Lannon has contacts in the Atlantic 10 Conference and Big East. He's playing his comments straight down the middle, as he should.
“I talked with some of the presidents of the Atlantic 10 and some in the Big East, and my comment to them was if there is a change or opportunity, that we would have an interest, at least in talking to them,” Lannon said.
“I want to make sure I say this: I'm very happy with the Missouri Valley Conference. I'm very happy with (Commissioner) Doug Elgin. I'm chair of the (Valley) president's council, and I work closely with Doug and I really like what he's trying to do. He's got his sensors out looking for opportunity (expansion) for the Valley as well.”
Ask Lannon what CU should do if approached by the Big East private schools and he says, “I prefer not to discuss this with you before I discuss it with my board of trustees. I do have an opinion, but it's not to be shared with the media.”
I'll share mine with the media: Creighton has a great situation in the Valley. I would think long and hard before leaving it.
Let's look at some of the major issues that will come up if this comes to fruition.
>> Start with money. That's where all conversations seem to begin.
Every time a conference school plays an NCAA tournament game, that represents a “unit” of NCAA tourney revenue. CU Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said that in the past five seasons, the Valley picked up 21 “units,” estimated by Rasmussen at $225,000 each. Last season, the Valley had three units — two NCAA games by CU and one by Wichita State. That money is split evenly by all Valley schools.
Would a super private school league bring in more units? Likely. The Big East had 11 NCAA teams last year, including Georgetown, St. John's, Marquette and 'Nova. Whereas the Valley annually gets one or two teams in the NCAAs, the private schools would figure to get more.
Rasmussen also said that, as of two years ago, the Valley had no exit fee for leaving. I wasn't able to reach a Valley official Wednesday to confirm that.
>> Automatic bid to the NCAA tourney. Rasmussen said the NCAA requires that if a new league is formed, at least six of the members must have come from the same conference to keep the automatic bid. That likely would be the case if the Big East private schools came together.
>> Travel. The days of driving to games would be over for all Jays teams, unless it was to Marquette or DePaul. That would be a pretty good financial hit for Rasmussen's budget.
>> Desire to compete with “like” universities. Whenever this topic of expansion comes up, many Creighton fans love the idea. They crave the notion of being associated with fellow private schools located in medium and large cities, many of which play by the same academic admissions rules.
They also like the idea of Georgetown, St. John's, Marquette, Xavier, etc., coming to the CenturyLink Center for games. To be sure, the lure of those names would be a big draw.
Then again, Indiana State and Missouri State pack the place now. Because Creighton wins.
>> Identity. This is the issue I hope Creightonians consider the most. It will change.
Creighton has a unique place in the Valley. The Jays' combination of academics, facilities, alumni financial resources and big city make them formidable, if they're hiring the right coaches. The Jays play in the biggest arena in the Valley. In their way, they are the Duke or Notre Dame of the Valley. There's no one quite like them.
In the Super Catholic League, could you really differentiate Creighton from Xavier or Marquette or St. Joe's? Some of those private schools play in NBA arenas in NBA towns. CenturyLink wouldn't look as good.
And what about the competitive advantage? Would coach Greg McDermott be able to recruit against the former Big East coaches, who have the ins with East Coast AAU coaches? Would Mac's Midwestern kids be able to win in that setting? Would membership there open doors to CU for recruits (and honor students) back east?
And how many NCAA bids would this league get? Four? Five? Seven? How often would Creighton get one? More than now? Less?
If you stop making the NCAAs on a regular basis, you risk losing the big crowds.
You also, in my opinion, put the non-revenue sports at risk. Baseball. Volleyball. Soccer. Women's hoops. Are they doing what they're doing now if they are in the far west region of an eastern league?
Sure, men's hoops stirs the drink at Creighton. But there's a lot of pride in the Creighton community in the Big Blue Express.
“We have a long, cherished association with the Missouri Valley Conference,” Rasmussen said. “And we do have an identity there that we have to consider. If we ever do have an opportunity to move, we'll have to balance the advantages with the disadvantages, the opportunities out there against the risks.”
The other day at practice, McDermott made his feelings clear as he motioned to the CenturyLink stands.
“There are so many good things about where we are now,” McDermott said. “The rivalries, with Wichita State. All we've got going here. Why risk that? I like where we're at.”
Where they're at is an unprecedented place in Creighton sports history. Maybe in more ways than one.
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