The Big East’s chickens haven’t come home to roost. They’ve come back to destroy the place, ripping off the ceiling, knocking down the walls and smashing up the foundation. They’ve come home and created a shambles, just like the Big East has decimated Conference USA, twice.
As the old saying goes, what goes around can kick your behind on the return trip.
That’s happened Saturday, when Georgetown and six other “basketball centric” schools announced they’re breaking away from the fabled hoops league.
Once upon a time, the Big East was content to rank among the nation’s top men’s basketball conferences. Charter member Georgetown was the national runner-up in 1982 — just three years after the league formed — and won the title in 1984. The next season, three-quarters of the Final Four hailed from the conference, a feat no other league accomplished before or since.
By 1989, Seton Hall and Syracuse had reached Final Fours as well. Founding-member UConn joined the list in 1999, winning the first of its three national championships. But life wasn’t good enough for the Big East after the Huskies won the title in 2004.
Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College were headed out the door, taking most of the conference’s football credibility with them. So the league gutted Conference USA for a total of five schools, including major-football playing South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati.
The Big East didn’t shed any tears for C-USA. Being a big-time football conference justified any means necessary. The same was true again this year, with six-pack C-USA schools on tap to join the Big East. Whatever nonfootball members like Georgetown thought, it didn’t mind because they didn’t matter.
Understandably, they don’t see the point in sticking around, especially with Cincinnati and UConn waiting by the phone, desperate for a call from the ACC or another conference on firmer footing. So, in terms of hoops, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova have turned the Big East into the Big Least.
“The common philosophical link is not religion, said Hoyas coach John Thompson III, in reference to the seven defectors being Catholic schools. “It’s basketball. So we talk about a basketball-centric conference.”
The move makes so much sense, you wonder why it didn’t happen sooner. Guess the hoops schools could take only so much.
The impending loss of Rutgers wasn’t a big deal, as more than 20 seasons have passed since the Scarlet Knights’ last appearance in the NCCA tournament. But lame ducks Pittsburgh and West Virginia have been consistent postseason participants for a decade.
Stomaching the departure of Syracuse and Louisville, basketball aristocrats with national titles on their resumes, is difficult enough. But replacing them with the likes of Tulane and Southern Methodist, well, self-respecting hoops programs have to draw the line somewhere.
“We voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honor the history and tradition on which the Big East was established,” presidents of the seven departing institutions said Saturday in a statement. “Under the context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward.”
They all represent the heart and soul of the original league, although Villanova, Depaul and Marquette weren’t there from the start (the Wildcats missed being a charter member by one season). Major football went from being an afterthought — only Syracuse and Boston College played among the founding schools — to being the overriding force behind an ill-fated expansion plan.
The lure of millions in revenue from TV and bowl games was impossible to resist, and it’s hard to blame the Big East for chasing the money. The league thought it could have the best of both worlds, master the hardwood and the gridiron like the Big Ten, SEC and ACC. But those conferences had headstarts of 83, 47 and 26 years, respectively. That was too much to overcome by cobbling together basketball-centric and major football schools.
“The institutions that have been committed to men’s basketball have made a decision that they are going to continue to stay committed to men’s basketball,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams told reporters Saturday after the Warriors beat Savannah State.
Left behind is a mess that no longer concerns the hoops schools. They might not succeed in retaining the conference name, but their outfit will be much tidier than the coast-to-coast monstrosity that awaited them.