CINCINNATI - The label "mid-major" leaves a sour taste in the mouths of those who root for the Xavier University Musketeers, knowing that the team is fully capable of taking down any team that falls under the "major" category; just ask the banner hanging from the roof of the Cintas Center that says NCAA Sweet 16 or Elite 8 five times collectively in just the last eight years and the numerous Top 25 rankings that went with those deep Tournament runs.
If the reported new conference that seven teams from the Big East have left to form comes to fruition and includes XU, that label gets turned upside down.
Of the six "power conferences," the Big East has held its weight well in basketball, but has become an after-thought in college football with all the recent departures and changes.
The current Big East football membership includes only four schools - South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple - that are committed to the league beyond 2013. And even though there are 11 schools with plans to join the Big East in the next three years, many of them are football-only, including Boise State and San Diego State in 2013.
Several Big East schools that don't have FBS football teams, namely the seven that are Catholic, recognized the league was getting quite messy and have potentially given a new height for Musketeer basketball to reach with their decision to leave and create a new conference that could (and should) welcome fellow Catholic university, Xavier, in with open arms.
Check out the potential conference opponents Xavier would face in this new league that we'll temporarily call the "Big Change": St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova. It's an excellent combination of successful schools with storied pasts and national championships, mixed with rebounding programs that have the fortitude to be competitive based on reputation alone.
Also reportedly invited to the Big Change is Butler, another team that has been mis-labeled as a mid-major over the years despite two NCAA Championship appearances, potentially with a 10th team coming from the A-10 in the form of either Dayton, St. Louis, VCU or out of the Missouri Valley Conference, Creighton. A 12-team format has also been reported as an option, which would include all but one of those aforementioned teams, none of which support an FBS football team (an important note because it would allow the conference to last long-term and not be affected by what happens in the lucrative college football world).
If this league forms as it is looking like it will, some very competitive basketball will ensue, and the Big East collapse on the football field will be rectified on the basketball court.
In the Big Change, Xavier's RPI (strength of schedule) would sky-rocket without even having to schedule difficult non-conference matchups, giving the team an automatic boost for consideration come Selection Sunday.
Also considered a benefit: The travel to away games is reasonable. Creighton's potential membership aside, the farthest school from Cincinnati would be Providence in Rhode Island, a cool 2-hour flight from the Queen City, fostering a regional cohesiveness (something the Big East has abandoned).
Not to mention an improvement to recruiting with the type of exposure Xavier would have in the Big Change; it would only attract more high-profile talent to mix in with the excellent skill XU finds right here at home in the Midwest. Xavier has had a mild presence in New York (notably Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons), but playing regularly on the East Coast and against teams like St. John's in Madison Square Garden will only grow their outreach.
Think of the potential TV coverage on a national level as well. Xavier has been appearing more and more on nation-wide channels such as CBS Sports Network and ESPN U as a member of the A-10 thanks to their out-of-conference scheduling, but ESPN 2 or ESPN couldn't turn down a "Georgetown v. XU" conference matchup on Saturday night.
And what of the University of Cincinnati? Their ties to the Big East conference on the football field remain in question, but should the Bearcats fall into the new Big East of basketball without escaping, their program could suffer, despite what is shaping up to be a return to glory year in 2012-13 with a 9-0 start.
No confirmation or comment from either of the Crosstown schools on the issue and much is in flux for the Muskies to even get an invite to this new conference, with Xavier's athletic department calling the potential deal "speculation," but when asked what the Musketeers would do if the seven departing Catholic schools sought XU's membership, Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski told ESPN.com that he's not sure how this will all play out but
"we're supportive of efforts to strengthen the [Atlantic 10] membership."
Forget the Atlantic 10. The Catholic schools in the Big East had their come-to-Jesus moment, XU should too.