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The new Big East and American Athletic Conferences - power or mid-major?

With the breakup of the old Big East, two new conferences were created - one with the same name, and one with a new one. But are those conferences power conferences when it comes to women's basketball?


At the beginning of next month, the Big East - the mega-basketball conference that has dominated women's basketball for so long - will be splitting in two. A group of schools called the "Catholic Seven" will be keeping the Big East name and adding three other schools. The remaining schools will split off and form something called the American Athletic Conference (AAC) which will consist of Connecticut, the other Big East Schools that didn't move to a "power conference," and some Conference USA schools and Temple from the Atlantic 10.

The Big East used to be considered one of the power conferences - a set of collegiate athletic conferences that included the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12. The power comes from the lucrative financial and playoff deals with regard to the college football programs of these conferences. The Big East formerly sat at that seat but in the conference shuffling was exiled to the children's table of big-time football. The Catholic schools were tired of football being in the driver's seat and the Big East broke up.

In football, neither the (future) Big East nor the AAC can be considered a power conference. But what about basketball? Could either collection of schools be considered a power conference in women's basketball?

Taking a definition applied to football and re-purposing it for basketball is a dubious exercise - but we will try. I went to and looked at the NCAA tournament history of each of the conferences as they existed at the end of the 2013 season. I ended up looking at the number of bids each conference received over the past 15 years and looked at the mode of this distribution.

The mode of an set of numbers is simply the number that appears most in a series. The average of the numbers 1, 3, 5, 5, 5, 7, 11 and 13 would be 6.25, the sum divided by eight. However, the *mode* would be equal to 5, which is the number that appears most frequently. The mode is just another form of average, along with the arithmetic average and the median.

Using the mode of the NCAA appearances associated with a conference since 1999, we can divide women's basketball into five tiers.

Conferences with a mode of bids per year > 3

Big East: 8
Big Twelve: 7
SEC: 6-7
ACC: 6
Big Ten: 5
Pac-Twelve: 3-4

We say "3-4" is the mode of Pac-Twelve NCAA bids over the past 15 years, since 3 bid years and 4 bid years appear with equal frequency.

Conferences with a mode of bids per year > 1

Atlantic 10: 3
Mountain West: 2

The next three groups all have a mode of one bid per year. These groups can be broken down to:

a) Conferences which occasionally receive more than one bid per year AND have won NCAA tournament games

America East: 1
Big South: 1
Colonial: 1
Conference USA: 1
Horizon: 1
Metro Atlantic: 1
Missouri Valley: 1
Sun Belt: 1
West Coast: 1
Western Athletic: 1

b) Conferences which occasionally receive more than one bid per year OR have won NCAA tournament games, but not both

Big West: 1
Mid-American: 1
Northeast: 1
Southern: 1
Southland: 1
Summit: 1

c) Conferences which over the past 15 years have only received one NCAA bid per year and have never won a tournament game

Atlantic Sun: 1
Big Sky: 1
Great West: 0
Ivy: 1
Ohio Valley: 1
Patriot: 1

We will call the conferences with a mode of bids per year > 3 as "power conferences". This gives us the standard power conferences, but the Pac 12 is barely a power conference under this definition. It could almost be called the "Stanford and whoever" conference.

This makes the definition of "mid-major" a bit murky. There are only a couple of conferences which can depend on getting more than one bid a year over the last 15 years - the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. One could go down to the next level to get the rest of the mid-majors - but the Mid-American would not be included and the America East, Metro Atlantic and Sun Belt *would* be included.

At least, we have a dividing line between mid-major and power conference. More than three NCAA bids per year? Power conference. Three bids a year or less? Not a power conference.

The next step is to look at the number of bids that each of the schools got over the past fifteen years for each of the new conferences.

AAC (American Athletic Conference)

South Florida
East Carolina

Hypothetical conference bids in:

1999 - 4
2000 - 3
2001 - 2
2002 - 4
2003 - 3
2004 - 2
2005 - 2
2006 - 4
2007 - 3
2008 - 3
2009 - 3
2010 - 3
2011 - 3
2012 - 1
2013 - 3

Mode of bids over last 15 years: 3

Future Big East (Catholic 7)

St. John's
Seton Hall
De Paul

Hypothetical conference bids in:

1999 - 1
2000 - 1
2001 - 2
2002 - 3
2003 - 3
2004 - 3
2005 - 1
2006 - 2
2007 - 3
2008 - 2
2009 - 3
2010 - 4
2011 - 5
2012 - 5
2013 - 5

Mode of bids over last 15 years: 3

Conclusions: the new Big East and the American Athletic Conference should be considered as mid-majors in terms of women's basketball. Somewhere on the internet someone joked that "Connecticut has now become Louisiana Tech". Louisiana Tech was a former women's basketball national powerhouse before teams from power conferences eclipsed it. I suppose the joke is that Connecticut lost the game of musical chairs called conference realignment, and now its teams find themselves in a sub-optimal conference situation. There's still the hope-and-a-prayer chance for the Huskies that they could move to the ACC, Big 12 or Big 10 someday if those conferences expand - but that's presently unlikely.

However, both conferences could be strong mid-majors. The AAC will more likely be a stronger conference than the new Big East. The AAC has Connecticut, and the new Big East doesn't have Notre Dame. Furthermore, there's less dead weight in the AAC. The only AAC team that hasn't gone to the NCAA tournament over the last 15 years is Memphis. Whereas, the future Big East has two schools (Providence, Seton Hall) that are 0-for-30 over the last 15 years in obtaining NCAA bids. The new Big East also has some schools which still hold their women's basketball games in overgrown shoeboxes.

Could some of these schools move to bigger conferences? It's more likely that their *coaches* will move to bigger conferences. Georgetown, Xavier and St. John's all had high-quality coaches who are now somewhere else. I suspect that if Connecticut isn't reading the power conference "help wanted" ads...then in a few years, Geno Auriemma might be.