The seven Catholic basketball schools have broken away from the Big East's football schools, taking the name along with them. Joining DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, and Villanova are Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. The new ten-team league begins play next season, though there is still speculation that the league could eventually add Dayton and Saint Louis to create a twelve team league in future years.
The old Big East will be rebranded in the near future, likely the "America 12". As it currently stands, this league will consist of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, SMU, South Florida, Temple, and Tulane. The defections of Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, and the additions of Central Florida and Houston were the final straws for the original basketball conference members, who wanted the conference to focus on basketball. In the end, the basketball schools got their way.
Creighton University has become a mid-major basketball power over the last fifteen years, winning the Missouri Valley Conference title eight times. It all started when Dana Altman was feeling unappreciated at Kansas State, and returned to his native Nebraska in 1994 to rebuild the Creighton basketball program. At that time, Nebraska basketball was the dominant basketball program in the state, earning NCAA tournament bids with regularity and even winning the Big Eight title in 1994.
But Danny Nee lost control of the Husker basketball program shortly thereafter, and the program struggled under Barry Collier and Doc Sadler. Nebraska hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998.
Meanwhile, Creighton has earned nine NCAA tournament bids since Nebraska's last appearance in the Big Dance.
That statistic has fueled the notion that Creighton basketball has surpassed Nebraska basketball. It's a tough argument to refute. In the middle 90's, Creighton played in front of a half-empty Civic Auditorium (capacity 9,000) most nights. When Nebraska came to play, the building turned red. Now Creighton frequently sells out the CenturyLink Center (capacity 18,560) and ranked sixth nationally in attendance, averaging 16,665 last season. And Nebrasketball attendance has declined over the years. In 1994, Nebraska ranked 20th nationally, averaging 13,278 a game. Now, Nebraska ranks 46th and only averaged 9,395 fans in 2011-12.
On the court, the Huskers and Bluejays have split the last six games prior to this season. Nebraska wins in Lincoln while Creighton wins in Omaha. So Creighton fans point to RPI and ratings as their proof that Creighton is a better program. But Husker fans point out that it's one thing to waltz through the Missouri Valley conference versus compete night in and night out in the Big XII or Big Ten. Husker fans do have a point there; while Creighton has occasionally played highly ranked teams, they don't do it very often.
Boise State has shown in football they can compete with almost anybody for one game. But can they hold up to the grind of playing an entire season at that level? That's the argument Nebraska fans have made in the past for Creighton being a paper tiger.
Big East membership changes all that. Creighton will be a member of a major basketball conference, beginning next season. Husker fans won't be able to try to brush off Creighton's success by saying it was "only" the Missouri Valley. If Creighton wins in the Big East, they'll have the respect they deserve.
On the recruiting trail, Tim Miles now has to compete against Creighton's Greg McDermott to sign players they feel can play major conference college basketball. That hasn't been the case in the past. Case in point: McDermott's son Doug. When Greg was head coach at Iowa State, he didn't offer Doug McDermott a scholarship. Neither did any other major conference school. Then Greg steps down from Iowa State to take the Creighton job, and offers his son a scholarship. Now McDermott is an all-American for Creighton, and the Jays are headed back to the NCAA tournament on Friday. So yeah, there is a difference in mid-major basketball talent and talent to compete at the upper echelons of college basketball.
Back in September, Miles was interviewed on BTN during the Idaho State game, and raised a few eyebrows amongst Creighton fans, when he discussed recruiting basketball players to Nebraska.
"The good part about that, is we’re the only show in the state, we’re the only show in the area."
That statement was a bit of a stretch in September. Six months later, it's downright ludicrous. Nebraska's not the only major college basketball program in the state anymore. Now it's even more important for Miles to make Nebrasketball the best college basketball program in the area. But that's not happening overnight?
I don't know how successful Creighton will be in the Big East. Certainly, Creighton basketball will become even more popular initially with games against Georgetown and Villanova instead of Evansville and Northern Iowa. The excitement of taking Creighton to the next level will certainly energize the Creighton fan base.
How will Nebraska fans react to this? For the Husker football fan who switches to Bluejay basketball in December, it's the best of both worlds. For the Husker basketball fan who has grown weary of chirping from Bluejay fans, it'll be a tiresome summer followed by the hope that Creighton falls flat on their face, if only to quiet them down. But really, that doesn't make anything better.
For that, it's Tim Miles job to finally pull Nebrasketball out of it's fifteen year funk. It's not going to happen overnight, but it's even more important now than it was when Miles was hired.