Sunday, December 16, 2012

Goodbye to the Big East

It appears that in a couple of years, if not sooner, the Big East will no longer exist, at least in concept, if even in name. Most the major news sites are reporting it official that the seven Catholic schools, all non-football, will spin off to form their own new league. I applaud this move, and am very happy to see it.
I will be forthright with you.  When Syracuse announced it was leaving the Big East for the ACC, I have been secretly hoping the Big East conference would fold before next season began. The idea of a Big East conference without Syracuse sickens me.  I really just want the whole conference to go away.
In reality, the Big East I grew up loving, disappeared a long time ago.  The erosion started with the addition of football schools Miami and Virginia Tech, though that was something that was more of a nuisance.  Adding Notre Dame made some sense as it was a Catholic school, and its profile would match much of the Big East.  I was willing to overlook the geographic anomaly there, but the inclusion of Notre Dame without the inclusion of its football program never made any sense. If you are going to sell you soul to get some new members, you better make sure it is a win/win situation, and I never saw the ‘win’ for the Big East in that move.
Rutgers geographically made sense, though it brought nothing to the basketball table.  It would  have made far more sense to keep Temple in the Big East for football, instead of unceremoniously kicking them out, and then insist the rest of Temple join the Big East; they would have a been a nice addition to the basketball league (though I realize Villanova would not have been happy with that).
West Virginia is a natural rival of Pitt, and since Pitt was in the Big East, bringing in WVU with a solid basketball and football program made sense.   Plus schools like Syracuse had traditional rivalries with the Mountaineers. 
But the league started to get bloated.  Teams no longer had home-and-home games with all the teams in the league.  You start to lose your identity that way.  Boston College left… that was a team that the Eastern schools all had a relationship with, and now that was gone on both the gridiron and the hard court.
The Big East expanded westward, beyond the Ohio state line, and grabbed schools like Louisville and Cincinnati to help with the football league.  Marquette and DePaul were picked up to balance out the basketball.  The league identity was gone. It was no longer a small conference of tough battling teams, but a mega conference.  It was a conference with some dominating basketball and tremendous depth, but no identity. And of course the recent grab of Boise State, Memphis, San Diego State, etc. was just a collection of every desperate program out there.  Thankfully Syracuse would be no part of that.
It bothered me that Syracuse left the Big East, but it made perfect sense. If they did not, they would now be were UConn is; a team with no home.  A great basketball program that needs a place to put its football program. Syracuse made the right move, at the right time.
Syracuse owed nothing to the Big East.  It entered the league as a top regional player, and in the first season of the Big East, which was a partial schedule, the Orange were the #2 team in the country.  They entered the Big East as a top program, they were one of the reasons the basketball league had credibility from the beginning. The Big East obviously helped Syracuse go to the next level, as it did to every other team in the league.  But the benefit to SU was mutual with the benefit to the league.  Syracuse was the only program in the league that remained a contender throughout the history of the league; year in and year out, they were always in the top half of the league.  They were not always the best team, but they were always a recognizable team.  Georgetown, St. Johns and Villanova dropped to some very forgettable and losing seasons.  UConn, Pitt. Providence and Seton Hall took advantage of being in the Big East to build successful programs.
I had discussed with friends during the 90’s that I would have loved to have seen the Big East add Navy, Army, Temple, and gone after Maryland for the Big East.  Those programs would have added to the identity of the league. It may not have been the powerhouse it became in basketball in the 2000s, but it would have had a regional and national identity.  Top to bottom talent doesn’t really matter; how do you think the ACC has gotten by the past 8-9 years with only a few really good basketball programs? Regional identity and historical perception. 
Anyhow, good luck to Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence, Notre Dame, Marquette and DePaul as you try to return to a respectable format.  I really do wish you the best of luck.

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