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Chicagoans need DePaul right where it is - in the Big East
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/30/2010 7:08 PM | Updated: 1/30/2010 7:08 PM

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Too many around here suggest that DePaul leave the Big East basketball conference.

The point is moot. The Blue Demons can't trade down to some mid-major league. I won't allow it.

Fortunately, neither will school administrators. Though they don't always look like they know how to make it happen, they want the Demons to compete at the highest level.

Thank goodness.

Do you think DePaul could produce Saturday's spectacle if it joined Loyola and UIC in the Horizon League or Northern Illinois in the MAC?

The Demons extended fourth-ranked Syracuse to the limit before losing 59-57 in Allstate Arena.

Regardless of whether DePaul won or lost or even competed well against Syracuse, Chicago needs the struggling Blue Demons to keep on keeping on.

You see, DePaul remains our last best chance to enjoy the best of college basketball.

I say that with all due respect to Northwestern, the only other local school playing in a major conference. (Illinois is not part of this discussion because the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Champaign prohibits most fans from seeing them on a regular basis).

The Wildcats of the Big Ten haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since, well, forever. They're inching closer but have a ways to go.

Loyola did win a national championship in 1963 but retreated to mid-major status and onto a heap that includes UIC and NIU.

DePaul has been to the Final Four. It has been No. 1 in the country during a couple different regular seasons. It has established one of the sport's deepest traditions.

Why does any of this matter? Don't we have the Bulls and Blackhawks to occupy our winters? Who needs DePaul specifically or even college basketball generally?

I do, folks. I like college basketball and assume a lot of other Chicagoans do, too. I like the energy and enthusiasm generated when the game's elite come to visit.

Saturday was a great example with Syracuse, a highly ranked team, and Jim Boeheim, a Hall of Fame coach, providing the opposition.

If Chicago truly is a world-class sports town, as if there's any doubt, it needs that kind of team and that kind of coach to routinely play here.

The Big East offers other prominent coaches like Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Louisville's Rick Pitino and West Virginia's Bob Huggins.

Currently it offers six teams in the top 20 and three - Villanova, Syracuse and Georgetown - in the top seven.

That's even better than the powerful Big Ten offers. Anyway, why shouldn't teams and coaches from both these conferences come here regularly?

Syracuse and Boeheim reminded of when DePaul was a national power as an independent awhile back.

Louisville would come in with Denny Crum, Georgetown with John Thompson, North Carolina State with Jimmy Valvano and Notre Dame with Digger Phelps.

The best teams and the biggest names were thrilled to play in the nation's third-biggest market and not much in sports was more fun.

Some believe DePaul has to decide what it wants to be. It already has. Athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto declared on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" last week that the Demons want to be consistently among the Big East's six best teams.

Nothing says DePaul can't be, just as nothing says it will be easy.

I say it's sure worth a try.