Seven basketball-only schools plan to leave the Big East as a result of the latest realignment moves the conference has made. DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova got together and decided that either forming their own conference or joining an existing basketball-only conference, like the Atlantic 10, would be in their best interest.
These Catholic institutions had to make this move. The recent additions the Big East made in order to chase football money has not only turned the conference into a mediocre football conference, they’ve also hurt the basketball product that was – or still is – the best in the country.
The Big East was formed in 1979, with the intention of being a basketball conference comprised of schools that had long-time, successful b-ball programs, located in big market East Coast cities. Washington D.C’s Georgetown, New York City’s St. Johns, Seton Hall located in North Jersey, Boston College, Connecticut and Syracuse were all founding members. Philadelphia’s Villanova joined a year later and Pittsburgh got down in 1982. Big markets, big basketball programs. That was the formula.
Being a 12-year-old in Philly, Villanova’s inclusion made me an immediate Big East fan. Like most kids, I liked all the home teams (still do). The Phillies were fresh off of a World Series win, the Sixers were one of the best teams in the NBA, having just lost in the Finals, the Ron Jaworski-led Eagles team had played in in the Super Bowl and, now, the Wildcats were gonna be playing Georgetown and Syracuse twice a year.
My excitement was for good reason, as Big East basketball soon became synonymous with success. It took just five years for the conference to become the only one to ever send three teams to the Final Four. St. John’s, Georgetown and Villanova all made it in 1983, with eighth-seeded ‘Nova upsetting the Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas in the 1985 championship. Every year after that, the conference seemingly got better, right up to 2011 when an NCAA record 11 Big East teams got in to the tourney.
The fan in me is devastated about what’s happened and is still happening to the Big East. As a supporter of the conference, the important thing was that it represented this area of the country. It's like SEC football in this way. But now, Syracuse and Pitt will be playing games in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It’s disgusting.
The Big East’s fall from grace began when the college football money-grab made it’s way into the Wild West that is inter-collegiate sports.
By 1991, football became part of the mix in the conference. Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia had joined up and combined with Pitt, Boston College and Syracuse, The Big East had a formidable football conference, to go with its’ top-level basketball. Soon, though, Miami left to join the ACC. No one really wanted Miami to go, but it made sense, since the ACC traditionally represented the southern part of the country right along with schools in Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. But then, in a move that made no geographical sense, Boston College left for the ACC in 2003 and that defection kind of opened the floodgates for exits.
Was Big East football that bad? Is the ACC that great? It was surprising that the Big East was a conference that could be pillaged. The football was damn good and the basketball was the best in the country. But apparently, the ACC knows how to work a television deal and the money they could offer schools was too good to turn down.
So, the Big East brought in schools like Louisville and Cincinnati to help the football side of the conference. Okay, cool. But as more schools left or threatened to leave, schools like Houston, SMU, Memphis and UCF were brought in for football with no regard as to what that was doing to the conference's basketball culture. We basketball heads noticed, but it wasn’t even on the radar of the money grabbers.
The final straw was Tulane. Once Tulane was invited to the conference, it was too much for the basketball powerhouses. The seven schools that have grouped together and plan to leave, don’t play big time football and are in need of a conference that will emphasize basketball. Games against sorry programs like Tulane and Houston will lower the conference’s RPI and ultimately the teams’ rankings and will cost them tournament bids, TV time and money.
The basketball-only schools have to leave. It’s not about loyalty–it’s about survival. I’m sad about the break-up, but I am also supporting the seven schools. Whether they join the Atlantic 10 or, in a more likely move, form a new conference, they’ll do well. These schools were once the foundation of the best conference in America. But, just think, no more Hoyas-Orangemen battles.