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The Last Big East Conference Tournament

Next season there will be a conference called the Big East, but it will be changed from the Big East we have known and grown to love.


The first Big East tournament was held at the Providence Civic Center and featured a line-up of Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Syracuse. Four of those founding members will play in a "Big East tournament" next season, probably at Madison Square Garden, and probably claiming the continued history of the Big East brand.

It won't be the same though.

By 1983, the league had expanded to include Villanova and Pittsburgh and added some of the nation's best basketball talents. The stage was shifted from the home courts of Providence, Syracuse and Connecticut to the bright lights of New York City -- and Madison Square Garden. The World's Most Famous arena signed a "million dollar deal" to host what would become one of college basketball's biggest spectacles outside of the Final Four.

In 1991, Miami joined the party and shortly afterward a few more football schools were invited into the fold. The Big East grew and those programs (mostly) grew with it. In 1995, Notre Dame brought another big-time name to the power-conferences' Garden Party.

When the departures began in 2004, the football brand of the conference, which had been launched in 1991, took a hit, but basketball only got stronger. Gone were Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, in came Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati.

The spectacle grew.

The media contingent at MSG every March is so large that the normal press room facilities at the arena can't hold all of the reporters, broadcasters and pundits who arrive by train, plane and automobile to offer their words and thoughts on the programs that congregate at the facility. Temporary press facilities are thrown together behind the scenes and "press row" in the arena expands to multiple levels, surrounding the court and above it in the nosebleed regions.

The power of the Big East Tournament's national media contingent has been so great that the Atlantic 10 conference recently signed a lease to move their tournament to Brooklyn, at least partially hoping that the Jeff Goodman's and Dana O'Neil's of the world will hop on the N,Q,R lines between Big East games to check in.

When the Big East conference launched in 1979, the powers weren't as clearly divided as they became in the following decades. Nobody wanted UConn, except for the league's founding commissioner, Dave Gavitt, but they grew into one of the powerhouse programs of the league. In the 1980s, every Big East tournament was won by either Syracuse, St. John's or Georgetown.

The new Big East will have no Syracuse and no UConn. Louisville, who came late to the party in 2004, hold two Big East tournament trophies; they also won't be in the new iteration of the league. In all, 19 of the 32 Big East Tournament Champions won't be in the 2013-14 version of the Big East tournament.

When Boston College left in 2004, they took 2 titles with them. Now, almost 60% of the winners will be left out of the titular Big East Tournament.

In other words: this is it.

There will be another Big East Tournament a year from now, but this tournament is the last Big East Tournament, at least as we have known it.

It is a shame that Connecticut was left out of the invite list this March. The conference didn't want a team that was ineligible for the postseason to have a chance to win a tournament designed to award the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid, but after cutting down the nets at the Garden seven times, the Huskies are as much a part of the Big East tournament history and tradition as any program.

The new Big East tournament will feature just three schools with multiple tournament trophies (Georgetown 7, St. John's 3; Seton Hall 2). The new Big East tournament will feature just four founding Big East members and at least two or three schools that have never before been associated with the Big East brand.

Some schools will be familiar, the venue will likely be familiar, and the tournament will have the same name next season, but it won't be the Big East Tournament. It won't be Syracuse and UConn going to six overtimes; it won't be The Truth swatting away Pearl Washington's attempt to beat the buzzer; it won't be the four- and five- game heroics of Gerry McNamara and Kemba Walker, respectively, to carry their teams to the title. Though draped in the same name and logo, this will be an entirely new beast.

The Catholic 7 schools will need to rebuild. What was arguably the greatest basketball conference in the land will be dispersed, and while the new Big East will take some of that greatness with them, more will go to the Big East's longtime competition, the ACC, and some will stay behind in the conference-to-be-named-later.

The spectacle next March may not be at MSG.

Enjoy the 2013 Big East Tournament, because for those of us who remember what it was, it will never be like this again.