Bob Harstad lived through the rumors some 20 years ago, when it was being floated that Creighton and some like-minded Catholic schools might get together and form a conference built around basketball.
The Bluejays had some history playing Marquette, DePaul and Notre Dame, so Harstad always listened with interest during his four-year career as a hard-nosed, high-scoring CU forward.
“You heard things through the grapevine,” he said. “You heard the teams. I always loved the idea.”
It just never happened — mainly because of the failure to ever corral Notre Dame — and Creighton played on in the Missouri Valley Conference.
With the new Big East calling and a mix of some of the same schools and some other name programs involved, Harstad likes what appears about to happen for his alma mater.
“I think it makes sense on a lot of levels,” Harstad said Saturday from Edmond, Okla. “Now that it looks like it's almost coming to fruition, I'm excited. I hope Creighton gets invited and I think it'll be a great league.
“Even now I get excited about it, and I'm almost 15 years out of basketball. The Bluejays playing in New York? And playing teams like Seton Hall and Georgetown and St. John's and Marquette? Man, that's a great opportunity.”
Harstad said the Missouri Valley “has been a great place for Creighton” and lauded the work of Commissioner Doug Elgin. But the three-time All-MVC player (1989 through '91) likened it to an employee being offered a better position.
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“You get an opportunity for a raise, you got to take it,” he said.
That mentality was echoed Saturday by several national news media members contacted by The World-Herald — along with some of the common concerns. Creighton coach Greg McDermott declined to comment until the move becomes official.
Creighton would give up being one of the top dogs in its current league to take on a bigger challenge. It will lose some traditional and regional rivals. Travel will become both an issue and a greater expense for its other sports.
But CU also will reap the benefits of far more television exposure and money, and a league that will provide a better route to the NCAA tournament if Creighton remains a winner.
“I think you got to do it,” said Mark Blaudschun, formerly of the Boston Globe and a veteran college sportswriter who now runs ajerseyguy.com. “I don't see any negative to it, to tell the truth. It's all about TV exposure. It's the way the world moves these days.”
Blaudschun said he thinks Creighton was “very, very on the fringe” as a potential candidate when the Catholic 7 started talking about breaking from the Big East. He believes Marquette won a turf war with Georgetown to get the Jays, a concession that likely will get the Hoyas a program like Richmond in return if the Big East goes from 10 to 12.
The reaction from Eastern schools to the Missouri River possibly becoming the western edge of the conference?
“They'll (complain) a little bit about going to Omaha,” Blaudschun said, “but in terms of basketball pedigree they'll think it's fine.”
Both Blaudschun and Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News said they think a 12-team league is inevitable — assuming CU, Butler and Xavier take it to 10 — because Fox will want the TV markets.
Weiss said that might diminish one of the most enticing things about hooking up with some of the current Big East “name” schools.
“If I was their athletic director (Bruce Rasmussen at CU), I'd make sure I have Villanova, St. John's and Georgetown coming to town every year,” said Weiss, who was heading to Madison Square Garden for the Big East championship game Saturday night. “If you split the conference in two divisions, you're probably only going to see those teams (in Omaha) every other year, and they're obviously the big draws.”
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Weiss said he could see an East-West split with a 16-game league schedule, meaning home-and-home series every season with your five division rivals and single games with the six teams from the other side.
“I guarantee you the Eastern schools are going to want to stay together as a group,” Weiss said. “It's going to be more of a regional Catholic league than what the old Big East was.”
Weiss said he would have guessed a few weeks ago that St. Louis would be the invitee rather than Creighton. Interestingly, the city of St. Louis is a place Creighton would be giving up with a move.
Thanks to proximity and potential for success, Creighton fans have swarmed the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for recent MVC tournaments. Although the Big East tournament would mean Madison Square Garden, it also would require traveling to New York City.
“If they don't quite own St. Louis, Bluejay fans have become the dominating presence at Arch Madness,” said Kirk Wessler, sports editor of the Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star and the next president of the U.S. Basketball Writers of America. “And there is no way that experience will ever be duplicated anywhere else in the new league.”
That said, Wessler called an invitation to the Big East something “that's almost impossible to say no to.”
Along with joining a league with institutions that share values and goals, Wessler said, the financial windfall and exposure probably ease the concerns of possible regret down the road.
“It all shapes up as a pretty good fit,” Wessler said. “Everything has its risks.”
Peoria is home to Bradley, like Creighton a private school with a similar enrollment and no football program. Wessler said he believes Bradley would make the same decision if given a similar opportunity to leave the Missouri Valley for the new Big East.
“Without going and talking directly to the president or A.D., yes, I absolutely believe that,” Wessler said. “If Bradley was in the same situation — with the same last dozen years of success and in position to join that group of schools — I think they'd do it in a heartbeat or without a second thought.”
The going could get more rugged, which would have fit Harstad and his style of play as a Bluejay fan favorite in the Tony Barone era. It would even be a bigger task than if a 1980s or '90s league had formed with CU, Marquette and DePaul meeting up with some others like Xavier, Duquesne, LaSalle, Dayton and Detroit.
“It is going to be a step up,” Harstad said. “Not that the Valley's soft, but you're talking about talent-wise you're going to see it top to bottom on every team, rather than the top three or four teams.”
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