And the latest moves in college athletics, with West Virginia planning to join the Big 12 Conference, has been changed from “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” mode to “hold your horses” today, according to ESPN.com.
ESPN’s report states that the Big 12, thanks to some hard lobbying by the state government in Kentucky, is now considering adding Louisville instead of West Virginia when Missouri makes their expected move to the SEC.
In terms of football, West Virginia is probably the bigger ticket draw (though not as much now as they once were). In terms of television markets, however, Louisville blows away that anything the state of West Virginia has to offer. Louisville is Kentucky’s largest city, with a metro population of about 600,000, which is more than double that of any city in the whole state of their Mountaineer counterparts. The Cardinals could also theoretically bring in the huge Cincinatti market (less than 100 miles away) as well.
Let’s look at how these different moves would affect swimming, starting with…
Missouri to the SEC
Missouri, like Big 12 mates Texas A&M who will be joining the SEC as well, have a world-class facility that any of the SEC teams would be proud to swim at. If this move was official in the fall of 2012, depending on how the rest of the recruiting class shakes out (though they got a good start on it yesterday), the women would likely slot in around 6th, right behind LSU and fairly even with South Carolina. The men usually put together some pretty good relays, and they’d probably be in that same 5th-6th range with LSU and Alabama.
But that wouldn’t be for long. Missouri, in their one season under head coach Greg Rhodenbaugh (previously a Frank Busch top assistant at Arizona) has already made huge strides. They have phenomenal diving programs (how could they not with those facilities?) and rapidly improving swimming programs. The women, with the likes of 2011 NCAA runner-up Dominique Bouchard are probably a hair closer to breaking into the next tier.
The men last year brought in one of the top classes in the country last year, though, including the likes of Canadian NAG Record holder Mack Darragh and 47.4 butterflier Neil O’Halloran. It seems to be a matter of time before they start pegging their way up the rankings.
The Missouri move isn’t official, but every indication is that they’re ready to leave. Their Board of Regents has given the University’s chancellor permission to seek a different conference affiliation, and the SEC needs another team (though they claim not to) to return to an even 14 schools.
In the short-term, this would leave the University of Texas men’s program alone with new conference member TCU in the Big 12 (effective July 1, 2012). The Big 12 women would be down to 4 programs – Texas, TCU, Kansas, and Iowa State. That is unless the conference approves the addition of…
West Virginia or Louisville to the Big 12
It’s not immediately clear why the Big 12 is hesitant to add both West Virginia and Louisville. Currently, there are 11 teams contracted to participate in the conference in the fall of 2012. It’s probably a matter of not pushing Missouri through the door until they walk themselves out, but the Tigers’ departure would leave 10. It seems like the ultimate end would be to add both West Virginia and Louisville. This would give several advantages, not the least of which is to have a 12-strong conference again, as the name implies.
This would also give them the rights to a football conference championship game ($$$), and for the benefit of the smaller sports give a more efficient travel partner (less $$$).
Competitively, Neither Louisville nor West Virginia would compete with either of the UT squads. Lousiville’s men would be the #2 team in the conference, as would likely the women. West Virginia would probably be similar to TCU, though the Horned Frogs stand to gain the most in terms of recruiting by admission to the Big 12.
In last year’s Big East, Louisville won both conference titles. The West Virginia men placed 3rd, and the West Virginia women were 4th.
In terms of facilities, both schools have solid pools, but neither would replace the losses of Missouri and Texas A&M. West Virginia has an 8-lane, 25-yard pool, with a full scoreboard, though it doesn’t offer much in the ways of bells and whistles (1 and 3 meter diving apparatus).
Louisville’s Ralph R. Wright Natatorium is a bit more jazzed up, with a 50-meter course, a full-range of diving platforms (in a cool industrial motif), and very nice locker rooms. The big drawback is that there is spectator seating for only 800, and all of it is deck-level. (By the way, kudos to the Louisville student body for voting to commit 15$ worth of student fees towards the natatorium for the next 20 years to get it built).
Louisville is probably capable of hosting Big 12’s, if only because it is such a small conference. This sets up a probable two-site rotation between them and Texas, with a possible neutral-site location in Dallas or Houston coming into play.
Competitively, this probably doesn’t change the strategy of either Texas squad, as most of those factors were built into A&M’s deprature. The Longhorns become quite dangerous at the NCAA level, though, because conference championship meets are all but irrelevant for them, aside from swimmers needing to make cut times.
Other Factors in Play
Louisville might be one of the few schools in the country that can say that their basketball coach carries greater weight than their football coach. Rick Pitino is one of the biggest names in the sport, and Louisville is basketball-crazy. Despite the conference’s losses, the Big East remains viable as one of the country’s better basketball conferences (though the ACC would have to be tops with Syracuse and Pitt coming on board). If Pitino puts his foot down and wants to stay in the Big East, then it might happen. Might.
But as we’ve seen throughout this process, the obvious conference moves have happened (A&M, Colorado, Nebraska) and the ones that made less sense haven’t (Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia to the SEC). The above moves really make sense, and I would expect to see them happen.