If you want to find out what it means to New York basketball fans that the Big East is ending as they’ve known it, a good place to start is a group of guys pounding beers between games at a stadium bar.
“It’s bittersweet,” Paul McGlaughlin said. “It’s totally bittersweet.”
McGlaughlin and his three buddies are in their late 30s and early 40s. McGlaughlin is from New Jersey and grew up rooting for Syracuse, which is leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” he said. “It’s unfortunately become a college football factory world.”
He’s referring to the main factor in the breakup of the Big East. Schools with big-time football and basketball programs usually make more money from football. So the incentive is to join a strong football conference, even it that’s bad for the basketball program. And it can lead to geographic atrocities like Rutgers, a New Jersey school, joining the Big Ten, a conference traditionally centered around the Great Lakes. That’s gonna happen in 2014.
McGlaughlin can explain.
“An example would be Syracuse going to the ACC so that they could build their recruiting pipeline by offering their players games against schools like West Virginia and other schools within that conference and generate more football dollars,” he said.
That’s right. Syracuse, in upstate New York, will be joining a southern conference. The bottom line is: next year, Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut — teams at the heart of the Big East — will be playing in different leagues. And that’ll be the end of the Big East tournament as we’ve known it.
Matt Evans was at the Garden last week to watch his brother, Jamal Branch, play point guard for Saint John’s in a second-round loss to Villanova. Evans is young, but he knows his Big East history.
“Man, you got players like Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing. You got Chris Mullin,” he said. “You got players that just made basketball what it is today. Just the rivalries, the coaches. It’s just so classic, man. Big East basketball is basketball … to me.”
“Rick Pitino, Rollie Massimino, [Lou] Carnesecca,” he said. “I mean, this was Big East basketball.”
Probably the best-known game in 34 years of Big East tournaments is Syracuse vs. Connecticut in the 2009 quarterfinals. Syracuse won … after six overtimes. That even impressed Villanova alum Jacqueline Reilly, who was at the tournament.
“Villanova played in the earlier game that night, I remember, and then we went back to our hotel room and we watched it for [six] overtimes on ESPN,” she said. “It was just such an experience to be here. It was amazing.”
Reilly was at Madison Square Garden this year with her sorority sisters from Kappa Kappa Gamma. They’ve been coming to the Big East tournament for years and they want you to know that Villanova’s Jay Wright should be coach of the year.
Villanova is one of the so-called Catholic 7 schools that will stay together and retain the Big East name. Steve Lavin, coach of St. John’s, says that’s a sweet deal.
“I’m glad we got the name because the brand is very important in anything: Coca-Cola, Hershey’s,” Lavin said. “You can’t go wrong with the Hershey bar.”
He says a few things remain to be ironed out with the Catholic 7 version of the Big East, like plans to add new members Butler, Xavier and Creighton. He admits that with the change, some of the league’s past magic will be diminished.
“Yet, I know that we lost some titans,” he said. “We lost some great rivalries and some great coaches and great institutions.”
Still, Lavin thinks the Big East will remain relevant at the highest level of college basketball.
“That’s kind of the world we live in, and the beat goes on and, you know, you reinvent yourself and do the best with the group you have, and I still think we’ll be one of the preeminent, premiere leagues in the country.”