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MORRISSEY: DePaul better off in conference with other hoops schools

A “basketball-centric conference” appeals DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

A “basketball-centric conference” appeals to DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 21, 2013 4:03PM

I’m not an economist, though I could, possibly, balance the family checkbook if my wife were to become incapacitated. But I don’t like to brag.

It doesn’t take a financial expert to see that the decision by seven Catholic universities to snub Big Money Football and pledge fealty to men’s basketball is a smart one. But more than that, it just feels right.

The seven — DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence and St. John’s — are breaking away from the Big East out of concerns that their needs as basketball-first schools were not being met in a conference obedient to football.

If you’re rejected at one house, shake the dust off your feet when you leave. Go where you’re wanted. Better yet, create a place where you’re wanted.

There’s no doubt college sports is all about money, and to say otherwise is to be a romantic, a fool or a liar. So before we descend into the warm goop of nostalgia for the good, old days of Ray Meyer, cozy gyms and parish rivalries, let’s remember that everything is about money.

The seven schools are moving on because of a fundamental conflict — they don’t have Football Bowl Subdivision programs in a conference and a world in which football is king. To be in a conference where what’s best for the football-playing members is of utmost importance did not serve DePaul and the other six.

And then there’s the Big East’s decline. In a little more than a year, it has gone from something very special to something pedestrian. When you lose Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and West Virginia, then add Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida, Memphis and Boise State, well, it’s not the Big East anymore. It’s the Big Something or Other.

There’s a chance the new conference will become just another league — the Atlantic 10 or the Missouri Valley. Georgetown will always be good. Marquette is consistently a top-25 program. After that, who knows for sure?

But travel will be easier, ­expenses should be lower and the new conference figures to get a good TV contract. Recruiting should be more concentrated, another positive.

Selling the conference as the spiritual home of gritty, urban hoops would be a good way to go.

“We’re in very, very large markets and very big cities where college basketball has always had a high level of recognition,’’ said Jean Lenti Ponsetto, DePaul’s athletic director.

For the Blue Demons, this is an opportunity to reclaim their identity. They were lost in the monster that was the Big East. There were games (and seasons) in which they had no business being on the floor with their conference opponents. This move will give them a chance to get away from the massive shadow of Syracuse and a few others.

The conference plans to recruit non-Catholic schools, which, alas, will deprive of us of “The Church League’’ as the conference’s name. But Loyola, Xavier and Dayton make sense for this new enterprise. I don’t know if adding Spokane, Wash.-based Gonzaga would make geographic or economic sense, but it would raise the conference’s prestige and competitiveness.

“The priority is that this will be a basketball-centric conference,’’ Ponsetto said. “We will continue to look at basketball institutions that are likeminded, that play basketball at the highest level, where necessarily the other kinds of decisions about the conference aren’t driven by football. Catholic or non-Catholic.’’

Chicago might be a pro sports-oriented city, but I think it yearns for a school to capture its imagination, the way DePaul once did. The town is tired of waiting for Northwestern, if it ever was waiting at all. Illinois sometimes feels a world away.

It could happen again for DePaul, but a spark, a big one, is necessary. The university is doing the right thing by looking to play its games somewhere in the city and getting away from Allstate Arena, which is too far away for its students. By far, the best place for a new stadium would be on campus. It would also be the most expensive option. But in this time of new beginnings, isn’t it worth every effort?

There will be a comfort level to the conference for DePaul. The packaging might be different, but a marketer will tell you that a new product design sometimes can change the world.

And not just for the Blue ­Demons. All seven schools can get back to their roots, can play to their strengths. They were lost but now they are found.

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