The twitter countdowns have been flying from your favorite college basketball pundits counting down to different arbitrary dates for the beginning of the season. November 13 will be here soon enough so don't get misguided by the practice dates and what not. The good news is that college hoops aren't too far away and we are starting to see the light at the end of the offseason tunnel. This week certainly produced some interesting storylines with realignment and the Sun Belt at the forefront.
What's the Perfect Conference Size
The Sun Belt will be a little bigger sooner rather than later with either Eastern Kentucky or Coastal Carolina joining the fray. With the moves starting to begin again it begs the question, what is the perfect size conference for basketball. As a fan of the Big South I've always been a proponent of the conference being very aggressive so that it's not plundered to an end. I've even advocating essentially stepping on the throat of the Atlantic Sun as their membership dwindles. My stance has changed a bit now with Coastal Carolina seemingly moving on and Liberty continuing to try to move to FBS (more on that later).
I've come to the conclusion that 10 is the perfect number for basketball. This could be achieved rather easily in the Big South and sets up an 18 game slate where everyone plays home and home. There is no more equitable model than that in college hoops.
Still some fans still prefer their conference to grow and grow and grow where you're conference is so diverse you have the likes of Old Dominion visiting a point (El Paso) geographically farther west than Denver. Is it better for your conference to have that small, tight-knit geographic feel or continue to grow and defend against realignment similar to what the CAA has done?
Liberty Ready for a Lawsuit?
When it comes to realignment no school has been more aggressive than the Liberty Flames. Liberty's facilities are some of the finest around, they have a passionate/large fanbase, and the Flames are the most FBS ready school in the country. Some have described Liberty as the Richie Rich of college realignment, they have all the money and toys in the world but no one to play with.
A commentary this week from our friends over a Liberty Flames Nation really caught my eye. Frustration has reached a fever pitch from Flames fan and it's turning to anger being directly at the Sun Belt. Is the anger warranted? Maybe. Here is Duke Cueno's theory:
Liberty University is being discriminated against on the basis of religious beliefs. I have been very hesitant to say this, but at this point, it is plainly obvious. It certainly isn’t an issue of on the field success, as Coastal could only be said to have been marginally more successful on the gridiron...
From a resource perspective, Liberty offers things to the Sun Belt that neither Coastal Carolina or Eastern Kentucky could never dream of. The Chanticleers play in a 9,200 seat stadium, and reportedly average 9,000 fans per game. The Flames already play in a packed stadium that seats 20,000, while Coastal has "plans" to expand to 21,000. In addition to facilities, Liberty brings a television network, financial stability, and a national footprint that Coastal cannot. That is not to mention the reportedly massive financial package Liberty offered the Sun Belt. Crunching the numbers, Liberty is obviously a better candidate.
Is Liberty too strong financially for the Sun Belt? I can grant those that believe this to be the issue that this is a reasonable theory. Certainly Liberty’s finances and private status could significantly accelerate the athletic spending arms race in the conference. In a conference full of state schools, it makes sense that other college Presidents would have concerns
Are the Flames being discriminated against? I don't know. They certainly carry some political baggage and there is still a negative taste in many folks mouths from the Jerry Falwell days, but who knows what really is the motivating factor for the Sun Belt to continuously glaze over the Flames. At the very least this will be an interesting story to follow and some think it may end up in a lawsuit with the conference or NCAA if the Flames do not find a home soon or become an FBS Independent.
Poetic Justice for Northern Kentucky?
If Eastern Kentucky does leave the OVC for the Sun Belt then it could trigger a bit of poetic justice in my head. Northern Kentucky left a bad taste in Atlantic Sun fans mouths when the Norse bolted the conference, seemingly overnight, for the Horizon League. The Horizon League is a nice home for a school that basically resides in Cincinnati but there is no secret that NKU would prefer the Ohio Valley.
NKU basically begged the OVC to let them in when they were first transition to Division I but the conference added Belmont instead (which makes sense). The ASun was then the only conference that really opened its arms to NKU and saved them from the Independent peril that NJIT, Longwood, Savannah State, and so many others suffered for years.
I would think that EKU does leave for the Sun Belt that the OVC will be looking for a twelfth member and NKU might have been a very strong candidate for the gig. Perhaps patience would've paid off for a school that ran for perceived greener pastures earlier this year. Maybe East Tennessee State or Chattanooga can be the OVC's solution instead?