As the schools leaving the Big East Conference and taking the name with them mix and match potential suitors to join them, one that seems a great business fit…along with the growing programs at Butler and Xavier and some others…is St. Louis University. Media partners, no matter who they are, will love not just the traditions of the exiting schools but their markets as well, and while Indianapolis and Cincinnati are solid (although one could easily argue Indy is a Big Ten City that likes Butler), St, Louis is a major market with slight winter competition, especially in hoops. The University of Missouri is in the distance, and it is a school that appears to “get” the marketing of collegiate sports, much like a Marquette does in Milwaukee.
Together, those at SLU, administrators and community, developed a financial and operational platform for athletic excellence in a major basketball market that does not have an NBA franchise. A big factor in the school’s strength is its 10,600 seat on-campus home, Chaifetz Arena, opened in 2008. Since moving to the facility the basketball team has a home winning percentage close to .800 and has significantly enhanced its revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships, and athletic donations. Dr. Richard Chaifetz, founder and CEO of ComPsych Corporation was the driving force behind the Billikens move, with a $12 million naming gift that helped finance its construction. It is an interesting look at how a mid-sized university in a mid-major conference, without the resources and infrastructure of a football program or a BCS-level television payout, can legitimately position itself to win a national championship in basketball.
The Billikens were ranked in the top 30 in most preseason national polls, and second in the Atlantic 10′s poll of coaches and media (ahead of new conference members and recent Final Four participants Butler and VCU). Coming off a year in which they won 26 games and nearly upset top-seeded Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament, SLU is once again making a run to March Madness, despite the emotional loss of one of the game’s most beloved and accomplished coaches in Rick Majerus this past November.
One thing is for sure…if the school stays in the A 10, it will be one of the magnets to keep the conference success flowing. If they are selected to jump, they might be an afterthought in the eyes of the national media, but from a nosiness perspective, they would be not just a great fit but a model on how other schools can do it right, using private money to best enhance a spot in a major market.
So as we look towards sleepers in March madness and conference chaos may start again, don’t sleep on St. Louis…a growing fish in a big business sea.