Throughout the summer and for all of the 2013-14 college basketball season you will read articles and hear the talking heads on TV say these exact words ‘this isn’t your father’s Big East.’ I’d ask someone to count how many times that phrase is used in the next year, but I can almost guarantee it will be used once during every single Big East broadcast and in 10-12 articles and blog posts a day. ESPN would probably overuse such a phrase, but they likely won’t be discussing the Big East that often next year given their terminated TV partnership. So don’t get all bent out of shape when you hear this phrase used in excess for the next year because it will only be natural to compare the ‘new’ Big East to what it most recently was.
And what the Big East most recently was, if you ask most sane college basketball fans, was arguably the best college basketball conference in the country. At 16 members strong it consistently was the home to title contenders. Since inception in 1979 the Big East sent 18 teams to the Final Four and brought home seven national championships – Georgetown 1984, Villanova, 1985, Connecticut 1999, Syracuse 2003, Connecticut 2004, Connecticut 2011 and Louisville 2013. The conference also sent a record 11 schools to the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Think about that – the Big East had 11 of the 68 teams in the field that year. That’s 10 of the 35 at-large bids. Now granted, these 11 teams had a terrible showing and made it easy for most of the country to then call the Big East overrated, but it was still an impressive feat that we are unlikely to ever see repeated ( at least until super conferences are created).
But the fact of the matter is we have always seen the Big East, and all conferences for that matter, consistently making changes. The Big East started in 1979 with seven members – Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Connecticut and Boston College. The longest stretch of stability was nine years from 1982 to 1991. In 1991 the Big East had its first major influx of new schools – Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Temple – but only Miami participated in basketball immediately while the others joined as football only schools before also joining as basketball members a few years later (save for Temple who never participated in basketball). Miami, Virginia Tech and Temple left in 2004 and the next major influx took place in 2005 – Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida all joined.
Now the Big East will be embarking on an entirely new chapter. Actually the Big East is a brand new conference that somehow got to bring the conference name and conference tournament location (Madison Square Garden) with it. Not exactly sure how they pulled that move off, but somebody knew what they were doing. The entire staff of the former Big East went with the newly named American Athletic Conference and it took the Big East longer than desired to find their commissioner, Val Ackerman, who was just named last week. The ‘new’ Big East consists of the seven catholic schools that broke off and took the conference name with it – Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, and DePaul. And they then added Creighton, Butler and Xavier to make it 10 deep.
There will always be those that will be confused about why this power house of a conference that once existed was broken up. And the answer will always be money and football. Or football and money. Either way – football brings in the money and Big East football wasn’t as respected or relevant as the other major conferences. So some of these schools (i.e. Syracuse and Pittsburgh) saw the writing on the wall and decided to bolt while they still could. But can you fault them? The world is driven by money. The basketball was good, if not great, but it could never compare to football, no matter how terrible it was.
So now the Big East is ready for new beginnings; something that it has gone through before, but now it’s strictly for the basketball. This will be a 10 team league with colleges that are ‘basketball schools’, and all signs point to the conference standing pat at 10 (at least for the time being anyway). This will be a pure basketball conference with these 10 schools that will be able to play a true round robin scheduling format. I think we can all agree that playing a home-and-home with every team in your conference is the best way of determining a regular season champion. And the conference tournament, thankfully, is still to be held at the mecca of basketball: Madison Square Garden.
As a college basketball fan I cannot be more excited about the future of this conference. Does losing the likes of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and the current national champions – Louisville hurt? No question. But there are still 10 solid teams here, of which seven or so are currently in good shape. There will be those that say a school or two will need to step up to be the face of this new conference. But does anybody really believe that Georgetown, Marquette, St. John’s and Villanova are going to slip into irrelevancy together. I don’t think so. And Providence is starting to make a little noise again, Butler has played in two national championship games in the last four years and has one of the best coaches in the country, and Doug McDermott will join the conference and do Doug McDermott things for a year before heading to the NBA. Throw in a solid Xavier team that is primed for a rebound year, a TV deal with the highly anticipated Fox Sports One, and the soon-to-be extremely popular tandem of Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery calling games that are guaranteed to be amazing, and you have yourself a college basketball conference that has got some things going for itself.
But at the end of the day this won’t be your father’s Big East. And that’s because this is our Big East. A conference devoted to basketball that college basketball fans of teams not in the Big East will be jealous of. Here’s to new beginnings for Big East basketball.
Tags: Basketball Big East Conference Butler Bulldogs Creighton Bluejays DePaul Blue Demons Georgetown Hoyas Marquette Golden Eagles Providence Friars Seton Hall Pirates St. John's Red Storm Villanova Wildcats Xavier Musketeers