The Big East basketball schools look like they are taking their ball and going home.
We'll get to the USF-related implications in a future post, but I’m going to take a step back in time to Big East history. I’m Big East to the core. I grew up in Rhode Island, and followed Providence College basketball until I started school at USF. One of my earliest Big East memories was from MLK weekend in 1988, when Sherman Douglas scored with seven seconds left to take the lead against Georgetown in the Carrier Dome, only for G’Town guard Charles Smith to hit a buzzer beater to win it. Until Anthony Collins, my favorite college player ever was Erik Murdock, whose NCAA career steals record was broken by another PC guard, John Linehan.
So when USF joined the Big East, for me it was the marriage of my two college sports passions. To this day, seeing USF playing in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden blows my mind.
But the marriage was almost doomed from the start. The goals for the basketball side (high RPI, 8-10 NCAA tournament bids, ONE SHINING MOMENT) always diverged from the goals for the football side (automatic BCS bid, large TV contracts, kicking ACC butt in the Orange Bowl), and those goals became more divergent as the years went continued. Teams like Syracuse, Pitt and WVU departed to achieve those football goals in other conferences. They complained of instability, but the essence of that instability was inculcated amongst conference members right from the start.
The Big East fan in me is happy to see the basketball schools go on their own, and develop a big city basketball league, which brings the conference back to its roots. But the USF fan in me is devastated, and disillusioned with the dissolution. We could be headed back to the hinterlands of college football.
In retrospect, when the conference re-formed after the ACC pilfered VaTech, Boston College and Miami, schools, it would have been smarter in 2004 for the C-USA and Big East basketball schools to have gone one way, and for the Big East football schools to go on their own and add C-USA schools Memphis, Houston, TCU and keep Temple, so it would have been a 12-team league all along. That would have been a solid league in all sports, and would have buttressed the league in case teams exited. The larger the league, the better able it would have been to absorb the losses. Eight was never enough.
But Syracuse, UConn and Pitt wanted to maintain the Big East basketball rivalries, and didn’t want to join distant, lesser basketball programs like Houston and TCU. That led to the hybrid league, and the hybrid league was always be unstable. The irritating thing for USF fans is that those schools are leaving/want to leave because of the instability that they themselves created by mandating the continuation of the hybrid league.
Where does all this leave USF? We’ll get to that later this afternoon.