Competition weakens with Notre Dame exit

In a stunning development Wednesday, the NCAA announced that Notre Dame would be moving from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coastal Conference in all sports except for football and hockey.

“The friendly rivalry between our programs goes back over a century,” said DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto in a statement. “Given our long-storied history, our shared values and geographic proximity, we look forward to continuing our relationship and wish them well.”

For the Big East, Notre Dame leaving is another big blow in a long line of defections to the ACC. In 2004-2005, Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech left the conference. Notre Dame is the fourth school in the past year to head east, joining Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia.

Notre Dame won’t be leaving the Big East until at least the 2015-2016 season (although they could leave earlier by negotiating with the conference), but it still might impact DePaul in the coming years.

The biggest impact will be felt on the basketball court, where DePaul and Notre Dame have faced each other in men’s and women’s hoops for decades. Notre Dame has consistently fielded teams that have bested DePaul, and now that competition is gone.

On the women’s side, the Blue Demons no longer have to face a perennial power. The Fighting Irish went 35-4 last season, including a 15-1 record in Big East play, beating DePaul twice by an average margin of 17.5 points. It will be welcome relief for the women, as there is one less opponent to worry about in a still-loaded conference.

On the men’s side, things look even more promising. Notre Dame’s exit means that the competition in the Big East is far below what it was a few years ago. Remember, basketball powers Pittsburgh and Syracuse are also leaving, and West Virginia was no pushover either. That’s four quality schools that DePaul will soon be rid of.

This means that the ever-improving Blue Demons should see a significant uptick in performance against new opponents like Houston and Southern Methodist University. The Big East still has great programs like UConn and Georgetown, but the talent gap is quickly closing. Ever since DePaul moved from Conference USA to the Big East, winning has been a struggle. Put simply, the Blue Demons were severely outmatched upon entry. But as the young players mature and the team gets better, DePaul could soon become a dominant force in the conference.

The changes in the conference may negatively impact DePaul is on the recruiting front. Despite a lack of marked success, Coach Oliver Purnell always had a card to play when courting a potential player – the recruit would be able to play in the prestigious Big East Conference, against the best basketball teams in the nation.

With five top-tier teams now gone, is the Big East really prestigious in basketball anymore? Check out the list of teams who will most likely be hitting the hardwood for the conference by the 2015 season: UConn, Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, South Florida, SMU, Cincinnati, Temple, Central Florida, Houston, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova, and DePaul.  Aside from the first four teams on that list, the Big East suddenly looks very vulnerable. Add in the fact that UConn’s legendary coach Jim Calhoun retired on Thursday, as well UConn being suspended from the NCAA tournament in 2013, there seem to be less and less reasons for a prime recruit to enter the Big East.

So while DePaul may miss out on No. 1 prospect Jabari Parker, there is still a lot to look forward to in an exciting new era of Big East basketball.