Traverse City Record-Eagle

Sports Columnists

January 14, 2013

Dennis Chase: Time for U-D to make move?

Maybe it's time to call on Dick Vitale.

I say that because if I'm the University of Detroit-Mercy, I'm taking a serious look at hooking up with the seven Catholic basketball schools — Marquette, DePaul, St. John's, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova and Providence — that just bolted the Big East.

Maybe that's suicide. Maybe it's too big of a step to take since it would require a greater investment in the basketball program, and that could be the stumbling block. I don't know what the school's long-term vision is for its basketball program, but if it wants to raise its profile and take a shot at joining a big-time conference, this is it.

As I said, maybe it would be too cost prohibitive. Maybe it would be too big of a competitive risk, especially since the men's and women's teams are doing just fine in the Horizon League. Maybe the other seven Catholic schools would not be interested in the Titans.

But I still think it's worth exploring. And this is where Vitale comes in. The former Titans coach and longtime TV analyst knows what it takes to compete at that level. He knows what the school would be up against as much as anyone — and if it would be even feasible. I think the school, if it seriously ponders such a move, should seek out Vitale's advice.

I look at it this way. With Dan Gilbert investing heavily in downtown Detroit, adding jobs in the process, and Mike Ilitch proposing a new entertainment district, including a multi-purpose facility that would house the Red Wings, there's interesting changes taking place there. I see hope, at least in that core area. The downtown's two sports teams, the Tigers and Red Wings, draw extremely well. If you put out a good product people will come.

So what about the U-D becoming a tenant at Ilitch's proposed arena? It would come with a price tag, but if the Titans could get Michigan and Michigan State to come downtown to play every year that would help the bottom line.

And it would certainly be more appealing and exciting to fans and recruits to see a Marquette, a Georgetown, a St. John's come to Detroit than a Cleveland State or Valparaiso.

A key, of course, would be Detroit's ability to be competitive on a yearly basis. The school would have to make a commitment so it could compete on a regular basis with teams like Georgetown and Marquette. It would be a big jump. Maybe that's too much to ask at this time.

Vitale in his day built interest in U-D through promotion and recruiting. He brought Magic Johnson and Michigan State to town, Al McGuire and Marquette. He put together some good teams thanks to his recruiting in Detroit — bringing in local players like John Long, Terry Tyler and Terry Duerod.

Here's the catch, though. Detroit used to produce a number of Division 1 players every year. That landscape has changed dramatically with city's population in steady decline. Several schools have been shuttered.

To do what Vitale did would be tougher today.

Maybe the school is content with its place today. The Titans did qualify for the NCAA Tournament last year after winning the Horizon. But I think this is a risk worth exploring.

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