As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, Saturdays meant basketball at the Pitt Fieldhouse. Then Sundays after church (my parents dragged me there every week) was typically spent at the Civic Arena taking in a Duquesne game.
Most of the teams in the Northeast and upper Midwest were independent in those days. There was a loose confederation of rivalries. Teams you knew were coming to Pittsburgh to visit one of the two top local programs. In the mid ’70s many of those teams began to collect themselves into conferences.
First there was The Eastern Eight, a precursor to the Atlantic 10, then the Big East. For many of us, that was college basketball.
I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last person to complain about conference realignments. But the demise of what we knew as the Big East really sticks in my craw.
I have tremendous respect and admiration for the teams who are now in the new Big East, the so-called Catholic 7. Those institutions understand the importance of basketball to schools and cities who quite simply don’t have the facilities (read: money) to compete in football.
Division I football isn’t in the cards for Georgetown, Marquette, De Paul, Villanova, St. Johns, Seton Hall or Providence. But don’t feel too sorry those teams, each of which I can remember with a Final Four appearance. They will add Xavier and Butler and possibly Creighton to make up a conference where basketball is the main event.
They haven’t even played yet and they’re already my favorite basketball conference. My only wish is that Duquesne would have maintained their program at a level to make them wanted by the new league.
The disintegration of the Big East can be traced to letting football determine their priorities. Recruiting San Diego State and Boise State to the conference was laughable. BCS money distorted their thinking to the point of selling their basketball souls to preserve their automatic qualifier status. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed at those two schools, which have recommitted to the Mountain West conference.
Pitt and Syracuse were one-time football powers, but when was the last time they were realistically in the national picture? Louisville, Cincinnati and even Connecticut have nice football programs, but these are basketball schools. Now, I don’t know what the hell they are. They have lost their identity.
West Virginia got out earlier, fleeing to the Big 12. They will be fine in football, where many thought they would have the most trouble competing. Football is only once a week. You can plan a handful of away games even when they are across the country. Basketball is usually at least twice a week.
Basketball coaches and players are the ones complaining about strain of travel. Jeez, you would think someone could have known traveling from Morgantown, West Virginia to Waco, Texas would be a problem, wouldn’t you? I’d like to know what the volleyball or softball teams think. That’s their conference, too.
The ACC is the next conference who will face a similar identity crisis. They have a few, and only a few, football programs that have any real national significance. But the majority of the conference is basketball driven. Just because Maryland lost its way and decided the Big 10 was a better fit (what the hell could they be thinking) don’t let that sway the others. Yeah, that Maryland-Iowa football rivalry ought to be a doozy, shouldn’t it?
Someday this will turn back around. Things that don’t make sense won’t last forever. Schools and conferences will go back to realizing a great natural rivalry is just that. Syracuse and Georgetown was a thing of beauty. Maybe someday Syracuse and Wake Forest will be, too. I’m hoping these conferences disintegrate back into what they looked like only a few short years ago before that happens.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Chris has a dedicated thread in the Pregame.com forums, answering your questions and more. Contact Chris at [email protected].