Column: Is Saint Louis University’s facility announcement a prelude to something bigger to come?

Sports

Plans for the O’Laughlin Family Champions Center were unveiled Tuesday at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, MO Tuesday.

ST. LOUIS–When word leaked out Friday about plans for a big event on Tuesday about the “future of Billiken Athletics”, Stu Durando, who covers Saint Louis University sports for our news partners at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was quick to tweet that his sources said the announcement would be facilities related.

And he was right.

Tuesday afternoon, university officials announced plans for the $20 million O’Loughlin Family Champions Center, which will touch every facet of Billiken athletics when it opens in 2023.

Listening to the announcement, a few things jumped out at me. Phrases like “basketball-centric” and competing and playing at the highest level didn’t just sound like window dressing.

I tweeted as such during the event, and how it sure sounded like Saint Louis University wasn’t talking about the Atlantic 10 conference.

Two of the “likes” on the tweet stuck out as I looked at my mentions. One was the official Twitter account for SLU Athletics, and the other was for the men’s basketball program.

At least in public, SLU hasn’t been a name that’s popped up much over the last decade-plus of conference realignment that has seen the Big East reformed in its original image as a basketball-centric collection of schools, saw Missouri and Texas A&M join the SEC, and saw other changes to the Big Ten, ACC and Pac 12.

Last week, Dana O’Neill, who covers college basketball for The Athletic, wrote that Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman “plans to soon engage her presidents in the very beginnings of a conversation about expansion,” with the conference’s FOX Sports rights deal up in 2025.

Gonzaga, the Jesuit powerhouse in Spokane Washington is the proverbial no-brainer for expansion, although it would certainly come with geographic concerns–and not just the irony of calling a team in the Pacific Northwest a member of a conference known as The Big East.

O’Neill includes SLU with Dayton and VUC as schools that fit the brand, “but taken singularly none of them necessarily move the needle enough to ratchet up a TV package.” Depending on how big the conference wanted to expand beyond its current 11 members, adding the Billikens would build a solid Midwest core with at least Xavier, Creighton, Marquette, DePaul and Butler, which could make for less expensive travel costs in non-revenue sports than the current alignment with the A10, where it is the westernmost school. It would also keep some of the equity the school has built in the overlapping markets the conferences share in New York and Washington, D.C., for example.

We don’t know what conversations, if any, may or may not have happened behind the scenes regarding SLU’s conference future. But the school is showing everyone what it is capable of when it comes to facilities and fundraising and where it could go from here.

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