The new-ish Great West Conference will begin their first Division I men's basketball season in 2009-2010. The conference was created from the few Division I independent programs and a couple moving up to that status.
As of now, the members are North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah Valley University, Houston Baptist, Texas-Pan American and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
No, that's not exactly a roster of elite hoops programs. However, Seattle could join the conference at some point. Seattle's most notable contribution to basketball was Elgin Baylor. Baylor led Seattle to the 1958 NCAA Tournament Championship game where they lost to Kentucky.
The Great West was a football-only conference when it was formed in 2004.
Yes, geography is a problem. I mean, the league stretches from New Jersey to Utah and will become the 2nd most expansive conference (behind the WAC, which houses Hawaii). But it was set to help the student-athletes having something to compete for and not feeling like a traveling roadshow.
"The premise of it was just to let the student-athletes at these schools play for something," said Great West commissioner Ed Grom. "The conference was built to let schools without a home come together as a league ... with weekly awards, standings and at the end, a championship."
You may think that is kind of cheesy, but it does hold meaning. Many people forget that there were tons of independent teams out there who had plenty of teams to play. Not anymore. Those young, small programs spend their time traveling all over the nation to get spanked by some major conference power. When those big conferences start their league play, those independents must find anyone else who might be willing to set up a meeting.
It also gives these programs a shot at the NCAA Tournament. While they were eligible as independents, it is extremely unrealistic to believe any of them would receive an at-large invite. Forming a conference would mean that they could qualify for a automatic bid by 2020 at the earliest.
That would mean that the NCAA Tournament may expand to 66 teams. Under the NCAA by-laws, there must be 34 at-large bids to the tournament. Adding the Great West would mean there would be 32 Division I sanctioned conferences with each one receiving an automatic bid. To satisfy the extra conference, a 66th team would have to be added to the bracket.