Thus far, we’ve tried to do a pretty good job of keeping up with all of the changes to the different conferences, that was kicked off this year by A&M’s move to the SEC.
But now, even my head is spinning. The Big East has sent invites to 5 teams to join the Conference, according to ESPN: Houston, SMU, Central Florida, Boise State, and Air Force. The first three of those (Houston, SMU, and Central Florida) will be invited in all sports, while the latter two (Boise State and Air Force) would remain in the Mountain West Conference for everything but football.
This is an odd conference, as about half of their members either don’t play football, or play football elsewhere, which makes any shifting even more complicated for them.
There are a ton of football implications to his, and some big-time basketball implications in the hoops-heavy Big East. But as always, we’re here to focus on the swimming. The Big East is going to look basically unrecognizable coming out of the season from where it was coming into the season. TCU left before they even started (Big 12), Pitt and Syracuse hopped to the ACC, and now it’s rumored that the Big 12 is going to target West Virginia and Louisville as either additions to the conference, or as replacements for Missouri (who is pondering a move to the SEC). Connecticut might be interested in joining the ACC, and they might take Rutgers with them.
Central Florida (who is basically a lock to accept the bid) doesn’t have a swim team, but it seems like they should. They have a huge student population (about 56,000 students), are located in Orlando, which is a hub for swimming, and they already have a quality outdoor, 25-yard facility that the team could utilize.
Houston has a women’s team, and SMU has both men’s and women’s teams, all of which would both be added to the Big East’s lineup. The Houston women’s program has a phenomenal diving squad coached by Jane Figueroda, who is a four-time NCAA Diving Coach of the Year (and has also coached at the last four Olympic Games for Russia and Great Britain). After the tragic passing of head swim coach Mark Taylor at NCAA’s last year, they’ve brought in former Arizona assistant Augie Busch to run the program. His name-recognition, connections, and location in the heart of one of the nation’s best high school swimming regions, that squad should headed back towards the elite levels that they were at in the 1980’s and 1990’s. With Pitt’s departure, The Houston Rec Center Natatorium probably becomes the best facility in the conference, if they accept the bid.
SMU has been a very good program for years now. At present, the women’s team is at a bit higher level than the men’ (the programs train separately), led by senior Therese Svendsen, who finished 9th at NCAA’s in the 100 back last year. The men’s best swimmer is Mindaugas Sadauskas, who was an NCAA qualifier last year. The SMU men’s program runs a fairly unique training cycle, where they basically work on 6-week peak-and-rest cycles. For their current position in Conference USA, that works out, but as they move into more elite conferences, and more high-profile meets, it will be interesting to see if they move to a more traditional training schedule.
The SMU women would immediately be the most competitive. The SMU men would probably catch up shortly thereafter.
The Big East is counting on these teams coming altogether. If all 5 accept, the conference has pledged to raise the league’s exit fee that would make it a huge financial burden for a team to leave the conference. SMU and Houston probably come as a package – they will either both accept the invitation, or both decline. But even that domino goes back a step further. Their acceptance of the bid is probably hinged heavily on Air Force and Boise State accepting as football-only bids, because that would ensure the long-term viability of the conference that otherwise looks to be crumbling. If the Big East remains together, and remains a BCS-automatic-qualifying conference, SMU and Houston will jump at the opportunity. Since the dissolution of the Southwest Conference in the 90’s (that roughly reformed into the Big 12), these two programs have been looking for a way to get back into a top-tier conference, and the Big East would offer that opportunity.
Here’s what the Big East swimming will look like if all of this shakes out. Newly invited teams are in bold, teams still considered to be targets for the SEC or Big 12 are in italics.
Stay tuned, as more about this potential move will surely come out in the next week.