As we prepare to kick off the 2011-12 college basketball season, the landscape is starting to look a whole lot different than it did in 2009-10. And that’s even before the lame ducks like Missouri, Texas A&M, Pitt, and Syracuse make their respective leaps to the SEC and ACC. It seems all but certain that at least one major conference will lose its BCS status or even collapse entirely, and it will probably be either the Big East or Big 12. As has been mentioned time and again throughout this realignment process, football is clearly the driving force, often to the detriment of the school’s basketball programs. And there is no better example of that than the Kansas Jayhawks.
By pretty much anybody’s rankings of all-time greatest college basketball programs, Kansas is in the top 5. It’s on par with Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and UCLA as the nation’s true blue-blood schools. Clearly, if the strength of a school’s basketball program was any sort of a factor in realignment, KU would be one of the most sought-after universities in the country. However, thanks to their sorry, no-account football progam, they’re left to twist in the wind and pray the Big 12 can hold it together so they don’t get left scrambling to join a mid-major like C-USA or the MAC. Let’s take a look at some of the options KU would have available to them in the hypothetical world where basketball matters:
Big 12: I think this would be the best choice for all parties involved. While the Big 12 is best known for its strong football programs, the conference’s basketball side has been consistently solid the past decade. While KU remains the only national powerhouse year-to-year, other schools like Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and even Kansas State have all taken their turn ranked inside the top 15 over the past several years. Losing perennial doormats Colorado and Nebraska only helps strengthen the conference as a whole and swapping Texas A&M and Missouri for TCU and West Virginia is probably a wash (although it won’t be as much fun for KU without the biannual beatdown of “rival” Missouri). The Big 12 would also allow KU to stay with K-State and also keep some good rivalries intact with schools like Oklahoma and Texas.
ACC: By far the most tantalizing possibility from a basketball perspective. Just the thought of putting KU with two other dominant programs in Duke and UNC, in what most consider the nation’s best basketball conference makes my heart race a little bit. There would be a marquee matchup practically every week in the ACC, especially with Pitt and Syracuse making the jump too. The main downside would be that KU doesn’t really make any geographical sense and it would be a substantial travel burden on them to have to play all their games on the east coast. Plus, with that strength of competition, you can almost guarantee they wouldn’t win 7 consecutive ACC titles the way they have in the Big 12.
SEC: Another conference that would be fun to see the Jayhawks play in to get the annual matchups with another historic program (Kentucky). Joining the SEC would also foil Missouri’s pathetic and desperate attempt to flee from KU. However, the strength of the conference as a whole is somewhat spotty and SEC basketball certainly doesn’t have as good a reputation as the other major conferences. I think as a whole, the Big 12 is a better conference for basketball than the SEC. (Also, I know we’re pretending football doesn’t factor into this equation, but just a hypothetical question: would KU’s football team win a single conference game in the SEC?)
Big 10: Probably the best geographic fit, which would eliminate the need to take frequent long road trips. The Big 10 also features one historically great school (Indiana), but they’ve been down on their luck for the last decade or so. There are also several that have been very good recently (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State) who call the Big 10 their home. The Big 10 would be a lateral move from a basketball quality standpoint and would force KU into playing a bunch of schools it has no history with (except for sorry Nebraska), so it’s probably not a great option at this point.
Pac-12: This would be the worst-case scenario for KU, simply because of the travel demands. It would be great to see KU play UCLA and Arizona twice a year, but there’s not that much history between those schools so even that doesn’t hold the same appeal as joing Duke/UNC or Kentucky. Plus the Pac-12 features games that frequently start after 10 pm on the east coast which could definitely hurt KU in the polls.
Big East: The Big East seems well on its way to becoming a mid-major within the next 5 years so KU would be wise to avoid jumping on that sinking ship.