News came down today that the Big East's non-FBS football schools have officially decided to leave the conference, a decision made by unanimous vote and one we've been expecting for a few days. It's easy to feel a little fearful about the Big East's basketball powers (sans UConn) striking out on their own—the Big East was a vaunted conference that, once upon a time, was synonymous with the best of college basketball—but our favorite soothsayer, Nate Silver, offers a convincing case that we should be bullish about the new alignment:
Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul share a history of relatively successful men's basketball programs, along with a heritage as Roman Catholic colleges. They have more in common with one another than they do with the other members of the Big East, which has diluted its basketball brand in its effort to remain intact as an elite football conference.
A conference composed of these seven teams, along with select others that do not sponsor Division I football programs, could offer a men's basketball league that was roughly as competitive as that of major conferences like the Pacific-12 and the Southeastern Conference. The alternative, to remain attached to the other members of the Big East, would put these schools at risk of being associated with a conference that would come to be regarded as second-tier.
Silver goes onto compare the strength of the conferences that already exist with that of the hypothetical conference created by the seven teams that just exited the Big East. It would be fairly strong—somewhere between the Pac-12 and the SEC—and even hardier if the seven breakaway teams joined up with programs in the midwest and on the east coast (like, perhaps, Butler, which just upset Indiana) or other Catholic Schools (such Gonzaga, Xavier and St. Mary's). Either way, Silver argues that this is a good day for fans of college basketball: The venerable Big East may be dying out, but a solid new basketball conference wil arrive to replace it, unburdened by obligations to football teams that take precedence.