For Soccer, New Big East Still a Challenge
The teams may miss Notre Dame, but the Big East’s new additions are no pushovers
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 14:08
Georgetown has never skirted around the fact that the new Big East is primarily meant to serve as a vehicle for men’s basketball. The three new schools joining the conference — Butler, Creighton and Xavier — all have storied histories in the sport, and University President John J. DeGioia even referred to the institutions joining the league as “basketball schools” in his letter announcing the new conference. While using this sort of language makes sense due to the heavily football- and basketball-centric college athletics landscape, dubbing the Big East a “basketball conference” glosses over the fact that the realignment affects hundreds of student-athletes at Georgetown that don’t play their home games at Verizon Center.
Both of Georgetown’s soccer teams, for example, were arguably better than the men’s basketball team last year; the men’s team finished the year ranked higher nationally, and the women’s team failed to lose a game at home. But Fox Sports 1 didn’t pay the conference $500 million so it could broadcast soccer — basketball reigns supreme financially. And because of this harsh reality, there are some notable scheduling casualties that the teams wish they could have back.
To put it bluntly, neither team is going to see the same level of competition it has seen in the past. Last year, the men’s squad lost to only three teams: Connecticut, Notre Dame and Indiana, its opponent in the national title game. Barring another NCAA tournament run by the Hoyas, none of these teams will be on Georgetown’s schedule this year. In May, Head Coach Brian Wiese admitted that he’s “going to miss playing against Notre Dame, playing against UConn,” who were ranked No. 10 and No. 2 in the country, respectively, when Georgetown lost to them in regular season play.
The women’s team is going to see an even greater decline in competition. Although the conference on the women’s side isn’t quite the powerhouse that it was on the men’s and is retaining Marquette, arguably its strongest team, the general drop in quality is steep; of the seven Big East teams returning to the conference, only two finished in the top half of the league last year.
For both teams, however, the new conference still holds fierce competition, and the drop in quality is nowhere near as large as it may appear. For both teams, Marquette’s presence is a welcome one, as the school tends to provide solid competition year in and year out. Last year’s thrilling double-overtime victory by the men’s side over the Golden Eagles in the Big East tournament was perhaps the most exciting thing to happen on North Kehoe — now called Shaw Field — all year. And the preseason Big East rankings have Marquette just barely edging the Georgetown women’s team for first place in the conference.
The incoming schools, seemingly chosen solely for their basketball aptitude, are a bigger surprise, especially on the men’s side. Both Creighton and Xavier made the NCAA tournament last year, with the former reaching the Final Four before losing to eventual champion Indiana. The Jays are currently ranked No. 6 in the nation, just three spots below the Hoyas, even after losing two NSCAA All-Americans to graduation. Xavier’s Nick Hagglund shared a spot on last year’s NSCAA All-America Second Team with Georgetown’s own Steve Neumann, and the team is currently sitting just outside the national rankings, with the second-highest vote total of any unranked school.
And while Butler cannot boast similar success on the men’s side, its women’s team will be the most accomplished of the newcomers. However, an early-season loss to former Big East member Louisville is a painful reminder of what could have been.
But the fate of Louisville — trapped in the American Athletic Conference, a league with neither an identity nor a specialty — shows that although the destruction of the Big East may not have been the best thing for Georgetown soccer, inaction would have been significantly worse. The necessity of prioritizing basketball says less about Georgetown’s preferences than it does about the reality that surrounds the corporatization of ostensibly amateur athletics — an issue for another day. While the addition of a school like Saint Louis, which has a history of great success in soccer, to the conference, would have been a nice gesture, the current Big East, though by no means perfect, can still be a great soccer conference.