While the inevitable break-up of the Big East doesn’t rival that of the Beatles in 1970, it seems like only yesterday that its problems were so far away.
On Saturday, the conference took one step closer to its self-inflicted obsolescence when heavyweights Georgetown and Syracuse met for the final time at the Carrier Dome, closing the book on one of the all-time great sports rivalries.
In 2011, Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they’d be leaving for the ACC, and when Louisville and Notre Dame followed suit last fall, it was the final nail for the conference that began in 1979 with the intent of becoming the best basketball conference in the country.
In the process, the Big East had an intriguing religious vs. secular dynamic — Catholic schools comprised seven of the original nine teams.
But when the rest of the league started crumbling, even the founding members jumped ship.
One can’t blame the departing teams when taking a look at the figures.
Each school in the ACC stands to make more than $17 million per year after the conference announced a 15-year deal with ESPN in 2012.
On Saturday, the Big East settled for a seven-year, $130-million deal to stay with ESPN after rejecting its proposal two years ago that would have paid the conference $130 million to $150 million annually for nine years. The fast dip in value illustrates the hit the Big East brand has taken with the potential loss of all of its original members.
Fortunately, Division II schools like Gannon and Mercyhurst are immune to the politics and circumstances brought on by television rights that detract from the games by threatening conference realignment.
Gannon and Mercyhurst are in a unique position in that they are the only private Catholic schools in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. All 14 other full-time schools are members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. When Seton Hill enters the conference next year, it will become the third private, Catholic school.
But on the Division I level, what began on a meteoric rise will conclude with an equally sudden crash.
Georgetown, which lost to Gannon in the 1975 Porreco Cup while it was rising in the Division I ranks, quickly became one of the dominant teams of the 1980s, along with St. John’s and Syracuse, though the Orange didn’t win a national championship until 2003. Villanova also accounted for a national title in 1985 when it shocked the defending-champion Hoyas as an eighth-seed.
In the ’90s and 2000s, the Big East continued to enjoy the fruits of being the top dog. In 2005, the conference expanded to 17 teams, adopting powers Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette.
For the past three decades, the Big East has featured perhaps the best basketball of any conference, winning six national championships and churning out some of the top NBA players along the way.
But as we learned long ago, all things must pass.
Can’t remember who said that.
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