Conference Realignment: Winners and Losers

I revealed the entirety of my conference realignment project during the past four days. Thank you everyone for your comments and thoughts on the analysis.

Much like the domino style realignment that is currently ongoing in college basketball, and that I wrote about in the introduction to this series, there are certainly winners and losers. Because I helped create the logic that built these conferences I asked my colleagues at NYC Buckets to provide some of their thoughts about what conferences worked the best and winners and losers from the overall experience.

(Note: If you want to see the final conferences in spreadsheet form you can check them out. Also, I’ve created an index of all the teams and what post they’re in if you want to check out specifics.)

Winners:

Ivy League (by Kevin Whitaker)

If one conference was guaranteed to stick together through thick and thin, it would be the Ancient Eight. The main reason is the “Ivy League” brand — it feeds off and enhances the reputations of its members, each of whom ranks among the top 12 D-I schools in the U.S. News ratings.

But prestige is not the only factor. Geographically, only the MAAC is more compact; every possible bus trip is under six hours in good conditions. (None of the other four U.S. News peers — Stanford, Duke, Northwestern and Notre Dame — is that close to any single Ivy.) It’s no coincidence that the Ivy League has remained intact since its founding in 1954, 45 years longer than any other conference.

With so much time together, the eight Ivy institutions have co-evolved into their own unique niche. As the only non-scholarship conference in D-I, the league has a relatively small basketball budget. But the Ancient Eight are above-average in total athletic spending because they run so many teams. (The conference certifies 33 championships, five more than any other, and most schools sponsor a few additional varsity sports like water polo and rugby). Each Ivy spends 5% at most of its total athletic budget on men’s basketball; only nine other D-I schools do the same.

Note: ‘Other’ includes general admin expenses.

So even without accounting for so many other quirks — the Academic Index, the Friday-Saturday back-to-backs, the lack of a conference tournament (just kidding!) — it’s no surprise that our algorithm kept the Ivy League in place, the constant center of a perpetually spinning conference carousel.

St. John’s (by Vincent Simone)

The “conference” is all over the place, but does include local rival Seton Hall. They Red Storm would lose top tier Big East teams including Villanova, but gain powers like Gonzaga and Wichita St. One of the top-tier groupings according to KenPom average, so it’s a fitting place to land for a program on the rise. The loss of some Big East rivalries like Georgetown, would be a shame with Patrick Ewing taking over this season, but SJU also picks up aforementioned power mids as well as top-tier A10 programs like VCU and Dayton. With the Big East no longer what it once was, this is a “win” for St. John’s, maintaining some Big East rivalries and supplanting that conference’s biggest names with other quality programs. Travel budget will have to get a bit deeper though!

Niagara (by Vincent Simone)

The Purple Eagles will be happy to maintain those geographic rivalries, and overall this shuffled conference is sound. They gain quality NEC programs in Wagner, Saint Francis University, and Mount Saint Mary’s as well as branch out to Drexel (a nice new geographic rival for Rider) and American. Along KenPom rankings, the league is about even with where the MAAC can usually be found. This one falls 22nd. This would seem to hurt Monmouth, a team that has been on the NCAA bubble the last two years, and benefit a team like Niagara which has struggled recently, those team’s fortunes have swung over the last 5-6 years.

Fairleigh Dickinson and Sacred Heart (by Ryan Peters)

I like this new setup for FDU and Sacred Heart, especially since better programs such as Hofstra, Iona and Albany are here. The much improved top tier (compared to the current NEC) would force Greg Herenda and Anthony Latina’s programs to improve resources and, hopefully as a result, lead to more sustained success. Perhaps a new arena for both, since they each awkwardly play in a field house that’s not conducive toward home court advantage. No offense to the Rothman or Pitt Center, but it’s time for an upgrade. Call me selfish, but this Pioneer alum can dream.

Other winners outside NYC Buckets coverage: Stephen F. Austin; Grand Canyon; New Mexico State; North Carolina Central; Arkansas; BYU

Losers:

Robert Morris (by Ryan Peters)

While Central Connecticut and St. Francis Brooklyn likely don’t mind the new conference alignment, Robert Morris absolutely gets the short end of the stick. There are no in-state rivals for the Colonials; in fact the closest team to Moon Township is UMBC and that campus is more than 250 miles away! Travel to every school, especially Orono, Maine, would be a nightmare. In addition, Robert Morris in 2019 will have a far superior basketball arena and facilities when compared to the other programs. That’s not where a program wants to be amid rumors of the school “up-transferring” to a bigger conference. As it stands: Horizon is greater than the NEC is greater than this NYC Buckets Made-up Conference and zero thought was needed.

Iona and Hofstra (by Vincent Simone)

This new conference is a loss for both Iona and Hofstra. Hofstra is the lone rep from the CAA, a league which has recently been within the top 10 of KenPom rankings. Iona, a perennial MAAC power for the last seven years, also takes a drop and would likely be considered the top program in this new conference. It is geographically sound and tight-knit with just eight programs, but I believe there has been a competitive difference between top and bottom historically that would form here as well. Albany, an America East powerhouse, is a solid inclusion, while others have been up and down, with shining moments. NJIT has only had success recently, and the same can be said of FDU. UNH has been an American East competitor, but not at the level of Albany/Vermont/Stony Brook in recent years. (Also, UMass Lowell is only tournament eligible for the first time this season, so they’re an interesting inclusion.) For many in this conference, the shuffle would be considered a win, but Iona and Hofstra clearly took hits competition-wise, although Hofstra improves in the travel department getting to avoid southern CAA teams. It’s a loss for both, moreso for Iona which has enjoyed more sustained success than Hofstra in recent years.

Saint Peter’s (by Vincent Simone)

This is a clear loss for the Peacocks, who drop to the lowest-ranked conference in the nation in this shuffle. They are the lone MAAC team present, while meeting a number of NEC and lower-ranked America East squads. This is a clear indicator John Dunne’s squad has far exceeded expectations, as they own a MAAC tournament title and CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship during his tenure despite being one of the NCAA’s lowest spenders. Opportunity to develop rivalries with the NEC teams in New York City, but the Peacocks also go from two New Jersey rivals in the MAAC to none in-state.

Other losers outside NYC Buckets coverage: Rice and Tulane (judging from some Twitter comments at least); Valparaiso; Boston College; UNC Asheville