As conference realignment changes the face of the NCAA, Robert Steven Williams wonders, “But what about the children?”
The backbone of the Big East snapped in two this week when Syracuse and Pitt departed for the ACC. This is about football and money. I’m a huge Orangemen fan and loved Big East basketball. Yes, Syracuse has had its gridiron moments, but for me—and most fans—Syracuse and the Big East is all about hoops.
Odds are that this will work out for Syracuse basketball given the strength of the ACC, but the Big East will never be the same.
Nothing is sacred in college sports today, but rivalries are the foundation of competition. It links tradition. It’s the common ground that binds the alumni with the student body. A game against a hated rival, like Georgetown or UConn, is viewed within the context of the great games of the past, but no more.
This conference realignment changes everything.
I’m unclear how it will specifically affect the great football rivalries across the country as colleges merge into these mega-conferences, but here in the East, basketball fans took pride in the depth of competition and in how many teams made the NCAA tournament—last year it was a record 11.
The torrid, regular-season schedule provided terrific games throughout the year, giving the top teams an abundance of competitive games in preparation for the big dance, but not anymore.
Maybe in 10 years, nobody will remember that it took Syracuse six overtimes to beat UConn in a Big East Tournament quarterfinals game. Maybe in 10 years, Duke will hate Syracuse as much as North Carolina. (Somehow, I doubt that.)
It’s not like there hasn’t been change in the Big East. I was still getting used to Louisville and Notre Dame in Big East basketball. Notre Dame, might actually have been a key reason Syracuse left. ND only brought hoops to the conference, keeping their football independent, making the Big East vulnerable. Now the big flight has occurred.
New York City is certainly a loser in this shift because college sport just doesn’t have the impact here that it does in most other American towns. (Only NASCAR struggles more.) The Big East Tournament was the exception to this rule. For one week, college sports dominates the Big Apple.
With Syracuse and Pitt out, possibly UConn to follow, the Big East will be far from looming large. It won’t be Big, and it’ll hardly be East.
It never hurts to have St. Johns competitive, but there are so many Syracuse alumni in the city, you’d think the Orangemen were playing at the Carrier Dome when they came to town. You could say the same thing about UConn. A Big East without Syracuse, Pitt and, UConn just isn’t the same thing.
As these super-conferences cherry-pick the top programs so as to gobble up all of the TV money, perhaps the biggest loser will be the colleges that aren’t in one of these conglomerates. If your school is not in a super conference, expect less national exposure and revenue cuts that will impact much more than just athletics.
And what lesson does this teach our kids? Screw loyalty and tradition, go for the cash.
—Photo Kevin Coles/Flickr