So here's the thing. The new "Catholic Seven" basketball alliance? It's not very good. At least not yet.
And you don't have to take my word for it. It's all in the numbers. In this case, a 12-year study of the schools involved using the only criteria that really matter in college basketball: NCAA tournament revenue units.
Why 12 years? That's two full NCAA revenue distribution cycles of six years apiece. In other words, more than enough time for even the most downtrodden programs to put their best foot forward.
To quantify success (or lack of same) on and off the court, we first ranked the departing Big East basketball schools via a League Partner Index (LPI). We think the formula is both basic and informative. It's 80 percent revenue-based (e.g., schools ranked by NCAA units earned) and 20 percent performance-based (a rolling average of RPI and nonconference schedule strength). We must include the latter, of course, as the ability to first reach and then be seeded in the NCAA tournament is based to a substantial degree on the quality of any team's conference partners.
Ranked best to worst, with the lower a school's LPI the better, here are the Catholic Seven:
Seems like one big, happy family, right? Maybe not. Let's see what happens when we add seven other private, mostly Catholic institutions to the mix:
Suddenly, the big, happy family is showing more than a little vulnerability. Outsiders Xavier and Butler claim two of the three top spots on the list, and four of the bottom five are "Catholic Seven" underachievers.
The bottom line of all this number-crunching, even if tweaked to the advantage of certain schools or groups of schools, is that the so-called Catholic Seven is a long, long, long way from its Big East glory days. Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown can never be good enough to carry their four average-to-below-average (and we're being kind) partners.
As for any proposed expansion, it would need to add real basketball chops to the new league. Otherwise, the product on the floor -- and broadcast rights for same -- won't come close to matching the rhetoric coming from current and prospective members. Even a 10-team league, adding Xavier and whomever else, won't have enough at the top to consistently place half its members in the Big Dance. More upper-end teams with beneficial RPI/SOS histories will be needed to deliver the expected five to seven NCAA bids per season along with the tourney advancement opportunities needed to pile up revenue units quickly.
Me? I'd go 12-14 teams, based on deeper data in the categories above, in an East/West format. Play your own division twice and the other division once (traveling in alternate seasons). It would look something like this:
EAST: Villanova, Georgetown, Saint Joseph's, Richmond*, Seton Hall, Providence, St. John's
WEST: Xavier, Butler, Marquette, Creighton, Dayton, Saint Louis*, DePaul
* not included if a 12-team alignment
Unlike the fractured football confederations, rivalries in these divisions are real and immediate. The markets, like the original Big East, are substantial and basketball-centric. If the thinking expands to public institutions (non-football, presumably), VCU and others make the cut. All that's needed is a name (and for Gonzaga to be 2,000 miles closer).
But you can't have everything. The Big East has proven that once and for all.