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The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student News Site of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Coaches react to Big East departure

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With all the talk of the so-called “Catholic Seven” leaving the Big East, the focus has largely been on the newly forming conference as a basketball one. But what effect, if any, will there be on some of DePaul’s other team sports?

Each of DePaul’s softball, volleyball, and men’s and women’s soccer programs have had varying degrees of success in the Big East since transitioning from Conference USA for the 2005-2006 seasons.

But for the coaches of each respective program, leaving the Big East – and the prospective issues with it – are seen as a positive step despite the Big East’s standing as one of the NCAA’s top conferences.

Leaving the Big East

For some of DePaul’s non-revenue team sports, the burden of leaving one of the biggest and most competitive conferences in the country – based on Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and NCAA tournament appearances by its members – is eased by the presence of Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova in forming the new conference.

The initial move into the Big East brought significant change to a few of DePaul’s programs. The men’s soccer program, for instance, saw growth both on and off the pitch, according to head coach Craig Blazer, who also coached during DePaul’s transition from Conference USA. “The positive is that we’ve improved our staffing, scholarships and facilities with the move to the Big East,” Blazer said. “We showed significant growth on the field in the conference. And those are things that we found a way to improve and we earned and now have that within our program. We’re now looking to take what we developed and start a new season and a new conference.”

For Eugene Lenti and the softball program, however, switching conferences is something of an old hat. “This is probably our fourth conference that I can think of that we’ve been a part of,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t really affect things at all. It doesn’t really change things. Everybody who’s coming with us has been a member of the Big East with us.” Softball has qualified for the NCAA tournament 17 times – including 15 berths in the last 16 seasons, which includes DePaul’s time in Conference USA. The transition from Great Midwest to Conference USA to Big East has been smooth for the program, Lenti said. “We’ve had success in the Big East, we’ve had success in the Great Midwest, we had success in Conference USA,” he said. “So whatever the mix [in the new conference] is for us, it doesn’t really change our dynamic at all.”

Meanwhile, volleyball has had a tougher go of the move to the Big East, finishing with a losing record every season, but showing signs of improvement under head coach Nadia Edwards. Last year’s 5-10 conference record was the best for the program in the Big East. Previously, in Conference USA, volleyball also had a slow start but progressed to the point where it won the 2001 conference tournament. “The biggest thing is, we have our program goals in terms of getting better, and that’s also getting better within the conference,” Edwards said. “This past season, we had a lot of program bests and we’re turning the corner in our program We’re really looking forward to continuing to compete and being more of a factor in whatever conference we play in.”

Conference strength and RPI

One aspect of concern for any new conference is the strength of schedule and makeup of its Rating Percentage Index (RPI) – a mathematical equation based on a team’s winning percentage, opponent’s winning percentage, and the winning percentages of an opponent’s opponent.

The strength of the new members in addition to the “Catholic Seven” can have an effect on the new conference’s RPI, Lenti said.

“The stronger your conference is the better it is for everybody involved,” he said. “When the upsets happen, you want that team to still have a strong RPI that beat you. If everybody puts forth the resources from a scholarship and funding and coaching point of view, then everybody should be reasonably successful and the conference [will be] stronger as a whole, so when the upsets happen, they don’t send anyone into a tailspin.”

Women’s soccer head coach Erin Chastain, however, doesn’t think the transition to new a conference will see a potential drop in quality based on the other six teams moving from the Big East.

“I think as we’ve seen in sports, especially if you look at men’s basketball, some of the mid-majors and a lot of the smaller conferences have seen a lot of success,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any possibility [the quality] will dwindle. If anything, with college coaching in general becoming more and more competitive, you’re seeing a higher level of coach come in.”

Conference size and scheduling

The size of the new-forming conference is also something receiving consideration. According to Chastain, most of the coaches don’t know what the prospective number will be, but said she’d prefer a smaller conference than Big East’s 15 full-time schools and two associate members.

“I like the idea of 10 or 12. I don’t know what they’re going to end up doing, but that’s a good manageable number for me,” Chastain said. “You want to be able to schedule a good non-conference portion of your schedule and then compete in the conference games.”

Finding a right balance between a conference schedule, non-conference schedule and a postseason tournament are all important factors to consider, Blazer said.

“I think what we learned from the Big East through the years is that playing seven, eight or nine conference games is the way to go,” he said. “Then, you have another eight or nine opportunities out of conference to raise your RPI; you need to win those non-conference games to do that.”

Recruiting

In leaving the Big East, the coaches all feel their ability to recruit won’t be hampered by moving to what will be a new conference.

However, in each sport, recruiting can be dependent on what each program offers. According to Edwards, being successful in conference play is “certainly attractive for recruits,” but noted being able to achieve an NCAA berth is a large factor in recruiting.

In soccer, men’s programs such as Creighton and UC Santa Barbara have continued to bring in talented high school players and make NCAA tournament appearances despite playing in smaller conferences. Meanwhile in the women’s game, Chastain said that due to uncertainty over professional soccer opportunities post-graduation, women’s college soccer is “viewed as the top level.”

“I still think in terms of women’s college soccer, you won’t see leaving early to go play professionally,” she said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be that type of environment, so the college game is viewed as a four-year wonderful opportunity for young women.”

In Lenti’s experience as the head of DePaul’s softball program, recruiting has come down to national successes more so than conference ones.

“Most kids come here because we can compete nationally. In our recruiting, kids don’t really look at that (conference play). They look at how we’re going to do nationally. And when they look at going to Alabama or Tennessee or UCLA, they know those teams can compete for a national championship, not so much that they’re going to win the PAC 12 or SEC. Everybody’s shooting to get to that College World Series.”

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