ST. LOUIS — Their hangout in Laclede's Landing is putting up two tents outside this year. Their favorite piano bar is tuned up. Their eateries-of-choice have stocked up on extra carbs to feed the hungry birds.
Up to 8,000 Creighton fans have descended upon this river city. This is their town, their tournament, their Mardi Gras. And they're ready to paint the town blue.
And, perhaps, say goodbye.
Realignment has no conscience. Realignment has no sense of timing. When it's ready, it drops out of the sky like Dorothy's house on the unsuspecting innocent.
In this case, that would be the Scottrade Center.
This story has been simmering for months now. Creighton started as an outside player in the Big East drama, a school that might get a look if expansion went to 12. And then last week, suddenly, the Jesuit school on 24th Street became a likely 10th member of the new Big East.
Don't look now, but here on the eve of the Valley tourney, with all 10 schools here, another house is about to drop.
ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS, the Associated Press, they're all saying the same thing now. They all have their story straight. They all have credible Big East sources. And they're saying that Creighton is going to join the Big East in 2013-14.
Really? This comes out now?
This has already been a Valley tournament like no other. The buzz is all over the lobby of the Hyatt Regency, the epicenter of all things Creighton. Have you heard? Looks like we're going. Looks like next year. Wow.
Look, for now it's speculation. I suppose nothing could happen. But where there's this much smoke, there's usually a fire. Followed by moving vans.
For the record, I'm impressed by the lockdown of leaks on the Hilltop. The Rev. Timothy Lannon runs a tight ship. Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen has issued no comment after no comment. On Thursday, Jays coach Greg McDermott gave his patented “I'm not on the need to know list” response to the Valley media.
Even Creighton boosters who always tell me what's going to happen aren't saying anything.
Nobody is saying it's not happening. Including Valley officials who don't say much but acknowledge that something might be about to happen. The mood at Thursday's shootaround was a little somber. Disappointed. And perhaps regretful for not having a buyout for league members.
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Meanwhile several Valley media types were already speculating on CU's replacement (UW-Milwaukee?).
And a lot of folks looking up at the sky for something to drop.
I haven't spoken to one Creighton fan or alum who's against the move. Admission to a Catholic church of hoops has been a goal of many at CU for years. But only here, in their home away from home, can they find something bittersweet about the possibility.
“The best argument I've heard for not going is we won't have St. Louis,” said Bill Hargens, an Omaha attorney and former Jaybacker president.
“We're going to miss St. Louis. You can't recapture what we have here in New York, even though going to the Garden would be cool for us old guys.”
There's a very real possibility that Creighton fans will be traveling to the Big Apple a year from now, to watch their Jays in Madison Square Garden. They try not to think about it. Kind of blows your mind.
Now, you hear that the new Big East will go with Xavier and Butler and put Creighton on hold for another year.
Forget it. It would be a disaster. Divorce years don't work, for either side. Creighton doesn't need a farewell tour as a lame duck and nobody in the Valley is going to want the Jays around or the storyline tied to their bus as it pulls up to the arena.
If this is going to happen, Lannon and the Creighton brass have to be pushing the Big East for it to happen now.
Well, next week would work better. The hunch here is, that's exactly what might be going on, that any announcement of adding CU is being delayed until after this tournament. What do I know? I'm just a grizzled veteran of conference realignment.
“I sure hope we do it now,” said Joe Johns, a 2004 CU grad. “And not one of these wait-a-year things.”
Imagine if that took place. You remember Nebraska's officiating massacre at Texas A&M? You'd have those conspiracy theories played out every night, every call.
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Imagine the bitterness and rancor following CU on the road. A Creighton departure damages the Valley. Wonder what the fans in Wichita and Peoria would have to say about it?
Wonder what they're going to say about it today?
Hargens and Johns don't know what to expect. What they've heard from other Valley fans so far, and read on message boards, is that they would be sorry to lose CU. But that could change with a few $10 St. Louis beers.
What Creightonians are likely to hear is a lot of Valley fans reminding them how things will be different in the Big East. They won't have the big crowd at the Big East and may become just another school in the church league.
“Sure, it's a risk, but so what?” Hargens said. “Who's to say we won't get better? For what this will do to our university and basketball program, it's a no-brainer.”
Johns, who works in corporate finance in Omaha, does a Valley hoops newsletter he emails to friends. He represents a lot of CU fans when he says, “I don't think we're trying to leave the Valley per se or don't like it. I think we want to get out from under the restrictions (TV exposure, RPI, etc.) that it places on you.”
That's the diplomat's way of saying, we like you, but you're holding us back.
Should be a fun weekend, huh? Lots of action, elbows, maybe some blood. And that's just in the stands.
Meanwhile, Creightonians hope to be the last ones standing, for the 12th time.
“We have a lot of fun here,” Johns said. “I have a friend who put it into perspective. He said, you know it's been a good night when the USA Today beats you to your hotel room.”
Better check the headlines, Jays fans. Might be last call.
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