A few weeks ago, while trying to find something completely unrelated, I found an interesting release on ESPN's Media site, the upcoming release of the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia($49.95 at bookstores everywhere). Contained in it is an exclusive all-time ranking of teams that Jeff Sagarin compiled. Printing up the rankings, the devious realignment man in me thought....How can I realign all these teams into neater leagues of similar strength?
It took a day or two to finalize it, but now I present to you, The Great College Basketball Hierarchy. It consists of three parts:
The Aristocracy: The 100 greatest college basketball programs, containing most of the current elite.
The Middle Class: The next 100, mostly coming from the current middle tier of conferences.
The Proletariat: The lowest 130 along with 16 teams transitioning to Division I(Winston-Salem State is excluded since they have announced they will return to Division II).
The common theme of all these conferences is they have 10 teams each(some conferences in The Proletariat have 11), they're confined to a certain geographic area and consist of teams of roughly the same historical strength. Most conferences had to be broken up in order for the conferences to make sense(the exceptions are the MEAC and the SWAC). All conferences are presented from west to east.
Warning: This is not intended to be a serious attempt at realigning all 32 current Division I conferences, it is just the product of my imagination.
Pacific-10: California, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Southern California, Stanford, Washington, Washington State This Aristocracy conference is the closest to it's real life creation, only Arizona and Arizona State were removed(due to geographic considerations). In place of the Arizona schools are two additional teams from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Western Athletic: Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, Colorado, Nevada-Las Vegas, Texas, Texas Tech, Utah, Utah State, Wyoming Why are the Longhorns here with this Mountain West-like league rather than with Oklahoma and Texas A&M? Well for one, Texas A&M's historical underperformance put it the Middle Class and two, it's the closest Aristocracy school to Lubbock, who if one more western school would've made it would've been the outlier in this conference.
South Central: Alabama, Arkansas, Houston, Louisiana State, Memphis, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Southern Methodist, Tulsa Given the option of Alabama and UAB for the 10th spot in this melding of the SEC West(the good teams) and Conference USA's best, I would've prefered the Blazers so that the Crimson Tide could be connected to Auburn. But that would be a violation of the geography rule I followed.
Heartland: Creighton, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Saint Louis, Wichita State The North Division of the Big 12(sans Colorado) joins with two ex-Big Ten teams, two-ex Missouri Valley teams and Saint Louis(A-10 outlier) in a very centralized grouping. The strongest conference out there by combined ESPN/Sagarin rankings.
Great Lakes: Bradley, Butler, DePaul, Illinois, Loyola of Chicago, Marquette, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Southern Illinois, Wisconsin Spread into only 3 states, this has a high concentration of private schools(particularly Catholic ones). Fast rising Butler was one of the teams close to the diving line between The Aristocracy and the Middle Class.
Big Ten: Bowling Green, Dayton, Indiana, Miami University, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio, Ohio State, Purdue, Toledo This league contains most of the heated Big Ten rivalries along with a few underrated Mid-American rivals plus Dayton. For geographic reasons, neither Cincinnati nor Xavier are in the league.
Ohio Valley: UAB, Auburn, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Louisville, Murray State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky, Xavier At last.....the 1948 conference.....with a modern day extension into Alabama. All ten teams here fit into neat little pairs of 2, which should be perfect for traveliing purposes. UAB has best Sagarin rating for schools with less than 50 years of basketball.
Atlantic Coast: Duke, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest, West Virginia Not only are the Tobacco Road rivalries retained, but Florida joins in to make this conference the strongest in terms of the most recent decade. South Carolina is also here(having left in 1971), but I think the TR denziens would not be too thrilled to have them back.
Capitol: Duquesne, George Washington, Georgetown, La Salle, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, St. Joseph's, Temple, Villanova The name of conference may mean that this league is centered on Washington, but Philadelphia is it's true epicenter. All five members of the Philadelphia Big 5(save Drexel, but the Dragons have only been involved in the series for a few years) are included.
Big East: Boston College, Connecticut, Holy Cross, Penn State, Princeton, Providence, St. Bonaventure, St. John's, Seton Hall, Syracuse Northeast-oriented, most of the historic Big East is here, with a few oddballs such as Princeton and Holy Cross(the last team in the top 100) thrown in. The lowest rated conference in the Aristocracy.
The Middle Class
California: UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, Hawai'i, Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, San Diego, San Diego A southern California-oriented league comprised of most of the current Big West(with a few West Coast and Western Athletic teams and San Diego State thrown in).
Northern Pacific: Boise State, Gonzaga, Idaho, Idaho State, Nevada, Pacific, Portland, Portland State, St. Mary's, San Jose State WHAT?!?!?? Gonzaga in the Middle Class? Well if performance was measured only from about 1998, not 1938, the Bulldogs would easily be in the Aristocracy, but they still have a lot to do to erase the all those years as Big Sky and West Coast doormats.
Big West: Air Force, Colorado State, Denver, Montana, Montana State, New Mexico, New Mexico State, UTEP, Texas Christian, Weber State Again, a geographical need, plus congestion in the next confernence resulted in a far out move into Texas for a 10th member(TCU). UTEP is the only former national champion(excluding CCNY, now in Division III) not in the Aristocracy. Very strong league for this particular level.
Gulf Star: Baylor, Lamar, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, McNeese State, New Orleans, North Texas, RIce, Texas A&M, Tulane Teams from 5 current conferences join in a conference named for a former D-I league(1984-87, strangely none of those 6 who were in that configuration are here). Texas A&M is one of a few teams here who could be in the Aristocracy if only more recent seasons were used.
Missouri Valley: Arkansas State, Drake, Eastern Illinois, Green Bay, Illinois State, Missouri State, Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Oral Roberts, SE Missouri State OK, it may be disheartening for Valley fans to see their league downgraded to Middle Class status, but in truth, 4 teams in the current league do qualify for Aristocracy status and because of geographic constraints, the Indiana schools had to move out. The result: 6 new teams, all of whom get an upgade from their current situations(Oral Roberts in particular).
Mid-American: Akron, Ball State, Central Michigan, Detroit, Evansville, Indiana State, Kent State, Valparaiso, Western Michigan, Wright State Five MAC holdovers get additions from the Horizon and Missouri Valley creating a poor man's version of the Big Ten. The membership-by-state breakdown is more hoosier-oriented(4 from Ohio, 4 from Indiana, 2 Michigan(compared to 6-2-2)).
Southeastern: Clemson, Georgia, Jacksonville, University of Miami, Mississippi, South Alabama, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech This is a motley collection of football-first schools and Sun Belt currents and alumni. Spicing up this league is Tennessee State, the only HBCU that is not in a Proletariat league.
Colonial: Charlotte, Davidson, East Tennessee State, Eastern Kentucky, Marshall, Morehead State, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, William & Mary Davidson and Virginia Tech could make a case for Aristocracy status in a few years. Otherwise, it's the CAA without a Northern and Southern extreme and an extension into Kentucky and West Virginia.
Central Coast: Army, Canisius, Cornell, Lafayette, Navy, Niagara, Richmond, Rutgers, St. Francis(PA), St. Peter's Army-Navy is fully retained, only because the Knights could not get the next conference because of geographical congestion. The same thing can also be said of Richmond, but due to burning bridges with their old CAA cohorts a few years back, did not get back in this realignment. Weakest Middle Class conference.
Northern Atlantic: Columbia, Fairfield, Fordham, Hofstra, Iona, Long Island, Manhattan, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Yale I briefly considered reusing the old Metropolitan Conference moniker for this New York-oriented loop, but the presence of 2 Atlantic 10 teams from New England prevented that outcome.
Great West: UC Davis, UC Riverside, Cal Poly, Cal State Bakersfield, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, Northridge State, Sacramento State, Seattle, Southern Utah, Utah Valley THIS is how to properly do a "Great West" Conference. If Seattle(transitioning to Division I) had remained at the top level, they would have been in the Middle Class.
Southland: Centenary, Houston Baptist, Louisiana-Monroe, Northwestern State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Texas-Arlington, Texas-Pan American, Texas-San Antonio, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas State The Ladies and Gentlemen are temporarily here before they drop down to Division III. Rated the strongest conference in the proletariat.
Southwestern Athletic: Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Grambling, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern, Texas Southern The only conference that is totally intact(but Jackson State and Alcorn State just missed Middle Class status). Surprisingly, despite recent struggles, it's the 2nd strongest Proletariat conference.
North Central: Chicago State, Illinois-Chicago, Milwaukee, Missouri-Kansas City, North Dakota, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Western Illinois Historic conference is restored with 5 former members and 6 new ones.
Horizon: Binghamton, Buffalo, Cleveland State, Colgate, Eastern Michigan, IPFW, IUPUI, Oakland, Robert Morris, Youngstown State Had to reach into Central New York State to fill out this group(Which is more of a reflection of the fact that the Great Lakes region is disproportionately filled by Aristocracy and Middle Class teams).
Gulf South: Arkansas-Little Rock, Austin Peay, Belmont, Central Arkansas, Lipscomb, Middle Tennessee, Nicholls State, Samford, Southeastern Louisiana, Tennessee-Martin Mix of Atlantic Sun, Sun Belt, Southland, Southern and Ohio Valley teams. Some members have been members of the actual Gulf South.
Sunshine: Bethune-Cookman, Central Florida, Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida International, Georgia Southern, North Florida, Stetson, Troy 5 of these schools didn't exist in 1969. BCC and FAMU are the only HBCU teams(other than Tennessee State) that aren't in an HBCU conference(and that was only because of congestion).
Southern States: College of Charleston, Charleston Southern, Chattanooga, The Citadel, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Mercer, Presbyterian, Western Carolina 5-state conference resembles an Atlantic Sun-Big South-Southern mish-mash. By far the weakest conference.
Carolina Intercollegiate: Appalachian State, Elon, Furman, Gardner-Webb, High Point, UNC Asheville, UNC Greensboro, USC Upstate, Winthrop, Wofford A more regionalized Southern Conference.
Mid-Eastern Athletic: Coppin State, Delaware State, Hampton, Howard, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Savannah State, South Carolina State Mostly intact, except the Florida schools are elsewhere and Savannah State is added.
Explorers: American, Campbell, East Carolina, George Mason, James Madison, Liberty, Longwood, Mount St. Mary's, UNC Wilmington, Radford, Virginia Military The most unique "new" conference name for a bunch of teams who've underachieved(GMU's 2006 Final Four run notwithstanding).
East Coast: Bucknell, Delaware, Drexel, Lehigh, Loyola(MD), Maryland-Baltimore County, Monmouth, New Jersey Tech, Rider, Towson Hey! Didn't all these teams belong to the "OLD" East Coast Conference? No.
Empire Nutmeg: Albany, Central Connecticut State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Marist, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, St. Francis(NY), Siena, Stony Brook, Wagner Heavily concentrated to Eastern New York and Connecticut(Hence the name Empire Nutmeg).
New England: Boston University, Brown, Bryant, Dartmouth, Hartford, Harvard, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Vermont It pains me to include Harvard and Proletariat in the same sentence. Oh, wait. I just did!
If you like this, or think I've lost my tiny little noodle, feel free to comment.
This Sunday, one of the greatest of injustices in Twin Cities television history could be delivered. Initially, the Fox was going to air the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears on it's Twin Cities O&O, KMSP. However, evidence has shown up that has KMSP airing the battle of the Bay of Pigs(Green Bay Packers-Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Click on the title above this post and get your voice across that, since the Minnesota Vikings have already swept the Packers and the Bucs are headed for the 2nd 0-16 season in NFL history, Minnesotans deserve a more meaningful game.