When the University of Dayton’s two-man conference-alignment team — President Dan Curran and Athletics Director Tim Wabler — saw the story in in the New York Post on Wednesday, they were thrown for a loop.
“Dayton will join Butler and Xavier next season in the new Big East,” the newspaper reported, though it cited no sources. It also said Creighton and Saint Louis would come on board for 2014-15.
“When I saw that, it caught me by surprise,” Wabler said. “There is nothing like that to report now.”
Curran said when he saw the story had come out of New York and that’s where the Flyers were about to play and that before the game he was meeting with a lot of UD’s East Coast alumni there, he thought: “Oh boy, that ‘s what everybody’s going to want to talk about.”
And nothing’s changed today.
The Flyers made a quick “one-and-done” appearance in the Atlantic 10 tournament Thursday at the new Barclays Center, losing 73-67 to Butler, a team that was simply better. Afterward, the thought of joining a new powerhouse basketball conference and how it would affect the program was on the minds of Flyers folks everywhere.
That’s the day-after silver lining to what was a disappointing 17-14 season that probably ended right here in the new home of the Brooklyn Nets. With the NCAA tournament and NIT now out of reach, there could be a bid to one of the third-tier postseason tournaments, but at least one UD official didn’t seem to embrace that path.
The Flyers are more interested in trying to position themselves among the elite in college basketball.
“At the end of the day this program should be a top-25 program,” Miller said after the loss. “The fans, our support staff, everybody believes it. And when you have that vision, you always have something to wake up to the next day.
“My hope is that one of these days we’re going to be what we all hope to be — which is the best. We want to challenge everyone we can. I want to be in the NCAA tournament like everybody else, but you can’t skip any stones, can’t cut any corners. You just have to keep trucking along.”
The road would be paved with more money and high-profile interest in the new Big East than in the old Atlantic 10.
“We want to be in the best basketball conference you could be in,” said Wabler.
Curran, although he wasn’t at UD at the time, said that was the same thinking the school had when it joined the A-10 in 1995.
The school had been in the Great Midwest, but when that league disbanded, all the schools went to Conference USA — except UD, which had won 17 games over the past three seasons and wasn’t invited.
“In the beginning we certainly needed the A-10 to rebound and I think they provided a great platform for us,” Curran said.
But next season Charlotte is leaving the A-10 for Conference USA, Temple is headed to what’s left of the old Big East and next week it’s expected that both Xavier and Butler will be announced as the eighth and ninth members to the seven Catholic schools that bolted from the old Big East to form their own league.
The Catholic 7, as Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul had been called, will retain the Big East name and play its postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden.
It’s also expected to be announced that the new all-sports network — Fox Sports 1, which is debuting in August as a rival to ESPN — will pay each school $3 million a year in TV rights. That’s 10 times what UD pockets from the A-10 each year.
“I don’t think there’ll be anything concrete until next week,” Curran said.
Another UD official in the know said privately that should the league decide to begin play with 10 teams next season, not nine, Creighton most likely would be the 10th member. He said UD and Saint Louis could be added a year later unless “politics” comes into play.
Two questions loom just beneath the surface:
Do some of the initial seven schools want more of an East Coast presence in what could become a league lopsided toward the Midwest? It’s said Georgetown may be interested in adding Richmond rather than both Dayton and Saint Louis.
And then there’s the question of Xavier. Would the Cincinnati school and longtime UD rival support the Flyers’ bid or throw up a road block?
One Dayton official who spoke anonymously said some fear the Musketeers want the league’s southwest Ohio footprint for themselves, that it would help in exposure and certainly in recruiting.
Wabler took a different tack: “On the other side of the argument is that when you look at a conference, match-ups can be really important. Match-ups make for good television and certainly Dayton and Xavier is a marquee match-up. It’s one of the highest-rated games on ESPN on an annual basis.”
Wabler has been charged with the task of presenting Dayton’s case in the college alignment battle and Curran said the AD has done “a great job” of that.
“No, I didn’t make any kind of (formal) presentation,” he said. “All the members know who Dayton is and what we are about and what our plans are. It’s up to the presidents of the seven institutions to look at schools as far as geography and television and how each place fits into that plan.
“Either way, I think both conferences (the new Big East, the old Atlantic 10) could give us a good opportunity in the future.
“The real key is who will provide us with the best opportunity.”
Everybody thinks they know the answer, but no one knows for sure if they will get the invitation.