Seton Hall's athletic future has steadily become murkier and murkier over the last several months, mirroring the slow but always steady decay of the Big East Conference. Today, reports indicate that this small Catholic basketball-only school may be thrown a lifeline in the near future.
ESPN has reported that the Atlantic-10 conference is open to adding the seven Catholic schools that currently cling to the collapsing conference known as the Big East. Seven life preservers may be tossed to the floundering football-less schools that seek a new future. This comes less than a day after reports confirmed that the same Catholic conglomerate met with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco to discuss the future of the Big East with a specific focus on financial figures and a possible dissolution of the conference.
Just a few months ago there seemed to be nearly infinite options for the future of the Big East. Now, there looks to be just two, for the basketball-only schools at least. Option one: dissolve the conference and RSVP to invitations from the Atlantic-10. Option two: succumb to the temptation of quick cash and settle for a watered down "Big East" that includes schools like Tulane, East Carolina, Southern Methodist and Houston if no invitations are received. A third option of dissolving and forming a new conference exists but is exponentially more speculative at this point.
For any basketball fan of the Catholic Seven, how can one not favor the first option? The Atlantic-10 has slyly become big winners out of this whole conference realignment mess, adding Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, two of the hottest mid-majors, in the process. With twelve of their current sixteen schools sitting comfortably in the Top-105 of the KenPom ratings, it's clear that the Atlantic-10 is no longer the little brother of the Big East. Little brother has grown up and has started fighting big brother back. Just ask Notre Dame. Or Marquette. Or Villanova, twice.
The only positive aspect that option two sports is a more lucrative but steadily eroding TV deal. While not nearly as nice as the Big East's current deal, the Atlantic-10 inked a nine-year deal with NBC Sports in October and an undisclosed contract with CBS Sports Network. Its undeniable that the current deal (25 regular-season games for 2013-21 plus coverage of the Atlantic-10 tournament, from the quarterfinals on) would be improved if the Catholic Seven hopped on board the budding network that is NBC Sports. After all, NBC acquired the rights via a $250m bid to the English Premier League over ESPN and Fox Soccer starting next season, making them a huge player in American sports viewing once (if?!) the NHL starts back up and if they can take a chunk out of the NCAA men's basketball market.
So, with all this laid out, it ultimately doesn't matter too much what you and I think -- we don't hold much individual power in this whole debacle, were just spectators. It's all going to boil down to what the powers that be at Seton Hall decide. And St. John's. And Marquette.
Will an instant payday and arduous future trump a secure, limitless horizon? Will a brandless conference continually be marketed as something it is not or will a new product be created? Will the presidents and athletic directors of the Catholic Seven continue to believe the blatant lies of Mike Aresco? Please, Tulane hasn't posted a winning basketball record since 2008 and hasn't played a bowl game since 2002. Will fans be urged to take ridiculous road trips to East Carolina or will convenient bus rides to Saint Joseph's, UMass and La Salle become customary? What is to become of the nearly lifeless body of the Big East? Will it be dragged further into the grave for the sake of a buck or will it be revived, to the pleasure of the majority?
I know what I would do.