While I have been following the evolution of the "new" Big East for the past 2 years, I am often left thinking about the original meetings when the conference was formed. What was their intent at that time? The member schools in the Northeast, all rich in basketball tradition,were now partnering with a new sports network called ESPN in the early 1980's. The league eventually became too big, and it was concentrated on TV revenue from football and made all league decisions with football in mind. The basketball schools united, stood up and said, "Enough!"
From the original formation of the Big East in 1979 through the early 1990's, it was a basketball powerhouse. Everyone knows about the great St. John's, Georgetown and Syracuse teams of that era.
Let's look at the conference a little deeper. If you're reading this,1985 is obviously a special year to you. Georgetown was a Michael Jordan jump shot and a Freddie Brown turnover away from winning the title in 1982. The Hoyas did win it all in 1984. Providence made the Final Four in 1987. Syracuse was a Keith Smart jumper short of a title in 1987. Same for Seton Hall in 1989- take away the foul call and subsequent two free throws by Rumeal Robinson and the Pirates may have been cutting down the nets in 1989. If the ball had bounced the Big East's way, the conference would have won the NCAA titles in 1982, 1984,1985, 1987 and 1989. Yes, the conference was that dominant.
So, what happened? ESPN continued to grow. Sports programming continued to grow. More games of every sport were televised. If you grew up in the New Jersey in the 1980's, the college football being shown on TV was either Notre Dame or Penn State. If you haven't, check out ESPN's College Gameday on fall Saturdays. They televise games all day from conferences all over the country.
As the Big East expanded, some of the newer members had a huge interest in football. Miami and Virginia Tech, who both used the Big East as a launching pad to the ACC, were football schools. Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and to a lesser extent, Connecticut tried to toe the line with football and basketball in their interests but the TV money generated from football could not be ignored.
The conference simply became too big. I remember watching Nova games vs USF and having to remind myself that this was a Big East Conference game. Really? Cincinnati was now a Big East team. Cincinnati!?!. To a lesser extent, I felt the same way when Nova was playing Rutgers. However, Nova vs Providence or Seton Hall- now that feels right.
The Catholic 7 schools saw the conference changing and vowed to stay together. They added 3 basketball centric schools similar to themselves and reformed their league, a basketball league. I already see the league realizes it's prior history.
The final weekend of league play pits Georgetown vs Villanova, quite possibly the league's marquee matchup. I am excited about the league. I want to watch Butler play in the Big East. I want to see teams play at Hinkle Field House in Indy. I don't care about 8 or 10 teams getting into the NCAA tournament. I will be excited to see 4 to 6 teams get in and hopefully have some playing the second weekend with a chance to reach the Final Four.
I want to see Buzz Williams stomping court side with his shirttail coming out just like Rollie Massimino used to do. I want to see John Thompson III walking with a white towel draped over his shoulder just like his Dad did. Can someone start wearing those ugly Bill Cosby sweaters that Lou Carnesecca used to wear? How about you Jay Wright?
I am very excited about the New Big East. I am thrilled we kept the original league name. The conference tournament will remain at Madison Square Garden.It seems to me to be a lot like the original Big East. Somewhere, founding commissioner Dave Gavitt is looking down and smiling.