With all the crazy movement and conference re-alignment going on in college athletics over the past few years, it appears that a major casualty of all of this will be the Big East Conference.
Over the past few months, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame have bolted for the ACC, Rutgers to the Big 10 (or 14 but who’s counting), West Virginia to the Big 12 and on and on. Then this past week, the “Catholic Seven” of the league (those schools that are primarily basketball only) – Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, DePaul, Marquette, Villanova, and Seton Hall – announced their departure from the conference, which has pretty much put the last nail in the coffin of the Big East.
Say what you want about the Big “East” adding teams to the league like Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, University of Houston, and that it will sustain itself for the near future until things settle down. But let’s be real…the heart and soul of the Big East Conference is gone and what is left is a vapid conglomeration of schools from all over the country. Rumor has it they will break the Big East into two divisions – the West and the East division…so you will have the Big East West and Big East East divisions. If they could only add Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Northeastern University to the conference, all corners of the compass would be accounted for. Schools from San Diego, CA, Texas, and Boise, ID in the Big East Conference makes as much sense as Chris Brown making a movie about relationships.
The history of the Big East was driven by basketball yet it’s demise was driven by football. For those, like me, who grew up watching Big East basketball in the years of Chris Mullen, Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, and others, this is a sad sad time. The irony is that about 10 former Big East teams will now be part of the ACC when you also count Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech. Where is the sense in that?
So to commemorate this sad occasion, the fine folks over at Bleacher Report have put together a top 20 best moments from Big East history and I’m proud to say Syracuse had quite a number of spots in the top 20, including the following:
#9 – The 1981 Big East Tournament in the Carrier Dome, where Leo Rautins led the Orangemen to their first Big East crown.
#16 – Jim Boeheim’s 900th win (last week)
So yes, this is a sad time for long time Big East fans. The long rivalry of Georgetown – Syracuse or Pitt – West Virginia will be replaced by Florida State and Clemson. At least the “Duke Sucks” chant won’t need to change.
My Syracuse Orange(men) are now part of the ACC. That just sounds wrong.
I have taken a few days to let this sink in. And in those few days, I have rationalized that from a business, relevance, and survival perspective relative to the current state (fiasco) that is college athletics, I can understand and agree with the move. Yet from a historical and emotional perspective, they are ripping out their athletic heart and soul and as far as I can see, signaling an end to the Big East conference as we know it.
Above and beyond any school in the Big East conference, it could be argued that Syracuse put the conference on the map. No disrespect to Georgetown, Villanova, Pitt, St. John’s and others. But to a high school kid, the spectacle of a sold out Carrier Dome and Brent Musburger saying “You are looking live at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY where today the Syracuse Orangemen will be taking on [insert team here]…” was (and still is) breathtaking. It drove athletes from Southern California to play basketball in the Big East and Syracuse, NY. Think about that for a second.
But this move is not about basketball. Its about football, money, survival, and relevance. The Big East was a basketball conference that tried to become a football conference. In my mind, no matter how hard it tried, it could never get the same respect for football as it did for basketball. In football circles, it was always second tier to the SEC, SWC/Big 12, etc. even though it had a seat at the BCS table. And in the end, that perception/reality was what did the conference in. The Big East’s basketball roots and success did not mean a thing.
The irony about this whole situation is that now the ACC has 5 former Big East schools (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Miami, Syracuse, Pitt) and from what I have heard, twomore may be on the way. So as was very accurately Tweeted the other day by Pete Abraham (@peteabe) of the Boston Globe, the new look ACC may very well end up being structured as follows:
And at the end of the day, what will they have really accomplished? The 5 (and maybe 7) former Big East schools will get to play each other again, with a smattering of vapid games against Duke, Clemson and Florida State mixed in for good measure. But we will lose far more – we will lose the beauty of what made the Big East – rivalries with regional schools and programs like Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s. We will lose the ability for fans/students (oh, remember them?) to take reasonable weekend road trip to visit friends at a rival school and catch the game. We will lose the Big East Tournament in NYC – where alums from all over the Big East have gathered during a week in March for the past 25 years to enjoy a week of non stop, heart pounding, bragging rights basketball.
Yes, I understand the necessity to make this move. But the sports fan in me is not too excited about it.
Come on, Jimmy B, don’t let me down. Throw a wrinkle in the gameplan to throw Villanova off. That is what is going through my mind tonight as my #4 ranked Syracuse Orange take on the #8 ranked Villanova Wildcats. The anticipation for this game is rivaling the classic Georgetown games from the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Throughout the years, there have been several unique characters, signs and stunts at the Dome that have helped get those huge crowds revved up – there was Dome Eddie (a scrawny guy wearing a big Orange wig), the Dome Ranger (a guy in an Orange Lone Ranger outfit who ran up and down the length of the court), signs telling Boeheim to “Unleash Tony Scott” to name a few. And now, there has been a new twist when a genius SU Grad Student brought a five foot high picture of Jim Boeheim to a game. From there its expanded to Wes Johnson and, hilariously, even Juli Boeheim, Jim’s wife.
Over at Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications blog, there is a great interview with Pat Manley, the aforementioned grad student who came up with the idea for the “Big Head Boeheim”. And yes, for all you Syracuse fans, he is part of that same Manley family who’s name was on the old fieldhouse.
So here we go, this is what college hoops is all about. May the best team decked out in Orange win!