Initially, the concept of an event such as the SEC/Big East Challenge was to give college basketball fans the opportunity to check out some intriguing interconference matchups, like Friday night’s tilt between No. 20 Georgetown and Tennessee, as well as foster the notion of conference pride.
Now, given the ever-fluid landscape of conference realignment, the idea that the SEC or Big East will continue to exist as we know it grows more distant with each passing day as traditional conference rivalries, teams and borders are thrown overboard.
Conference pride has given way to conference survival, and no one has felt that impact more than the Big East. In the latest round of chair shuffling, hoops power Louisville left the crumbling league Wednesday for the somewhat greener pastures of the ACC, putting the Hoyas in a precarious position as a basketball school in a football world.
“Intercollegiate athletics is going through a transformation, an evolution,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said Thursday. “We’re not close to being done.”
Two seasons ago, 11 Big East teams qualified for the NCAA tournament. Now, five of them — Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Syracuse — are gone or headed out the door, with Rutgers joining them and rumors flying that Connecticut would love to be the next team to flee.
Thompson has maintained that the league will continue to thrive and remain a basketball force despite the departures, but that argument seems on shaky ground as the league replaces traditional powers with the likes of Boise State and Tulane.
“What I think is important is that I’m the coach of Georgetown,” Thompson said. “And Georgetown has always been good before the Big East, in the Big East as we have known it and we’re going to be good the future, whatever the future holds. I’m not a fortuneteller, but I do know that we are going to be good.”
Most of the Hoyas players professed ambivalence about the shifting ground under their feet but did acknowledge they were aware of the movements.
“The Big East is one of the best leagues, so seeing teams leave is a surprise,” sophomore forward Otto Porter said.
Added guard Markel Starks: “All this moving creates an atmosphere where there’s a lot of controversy. You get asked a lot of questions. But we’re Georgetown, and whatever happens, happens.”
At some point, however, Georgetown is going to have to face the hard truths about its future, along with fellow basketball-first schools such as Villanova, Marquette and St. John’s. But Thompson said he hasn’t reached that stage yet.
“I think that’s a question probably best answered not by John Thompson,” he said. “The bottom line is that every school is probably posturing as best it can behind the scenes.”
Whatever happens in the short-term, it’s clear that the Hoyas and the Big East aren’t going to escape questions about their future.
“Time will tell,” Thompson said. “I’m getting ready for Tennessee.”
We do have a game [Friday], in case you forgot.”