The 30 for 30s that are offered by ESPN remain the best thing the staff-reducing network has going for it. They are so good that my wife watches them, and the only time I’ve known her to be dedicated to sports was as a hanky waver at eight World Series games in the Metrodome.
There are several great 30 for 30s, and the best of all in my opinion was the 2014 offering, “Requiem for the Big East.’’ It tells the amazing story of Providence coach Dave Gavitt convincing Eastern independents Boston College, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse to join the Friars in a basketball league for 1979-80.
Villanova signed on in 1980, Pittsburgh in 1982, and by 1985, Gavitt’s Big East had three-fourths of the Final Four with Georgetown, Villanova and St. John’s. Villanova’s upset of Georgetown remains a gigantic moment in the NCAA tournament’s rise to its current, enormous status.
The destruction of the Big East started in 1991, when Commissioner Mike Slive shelved Gavitt’s basketball-centric vision and put together a football league: adding Miami as a full-time member, and (originally) Rutgers, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Temple for football.
Connecticut, Boston College, Syracuse and Pitt were already Division 1A football schools. Short-term it worked, as the Big East received a seat at the table with the original Bowl Coalition in 1992; long-term, it set up the Big East to be raided by expanding rival conferences, and caused membership chaos that ruined the league.
Seven Catholic schools that were in the Big East in March 2013 announced they would be leaving after June 30: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova and St. John’s.
Cincinnati and Connecticut, FBS schools, wanted to stay. Nope. This was going to be a basketball conference. If you wanted to play top division football, head off to the new American Athletic Conference, a 12-team league from the East to the South to the West.
The seven basketball schools were able to take the Big East name with them, and were able to add Xavier in Cincinnati, Butler in Indianapolis and Creighton in Omaha: three potent basketball programs in good-sized cities.
In 2016, the new Big East had the national champion in Villanova. In 2017, seven of its 10 teams were selected to the play in the NCAA tournament.
The Big East kicked off conference play this week with three games on Wednesday and two on Thursday. There will be three more on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Occasionally, there’s a national game on “big’’ Fox. The conference is also covered extensively and at predictable times at FS1.
Wichita State was looking for a new league recently. The Big East passed. The Shockers wound up as the first non-playing football member of the AAC, desperate as that league is for any form of notoriety.
It was a great decision by the Big East. Ten teams, basketball-driven, and everybody plays everybody, home and away. A revised St. John’s would help, but it’s not really needed.
Another positive for this league is it’s not going to be the home for one-and-dones – just a lot of good players who are going to be around for three or four years, to become familiar rivals in full arenas on winter nights.
The best trump card ever for the new Big East is a contract through 2026 to play its tournament in the second week of March at Madison Square Garden.
Last year, the ACC wanted to come to New York, so it played at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The Big East was perfectly content to offer a handful of close games among its nine played in the Garden, including two terrific games in the semifinals.
This year, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had to settle for a finish on the first weekend of March in order to put the conference tournament in the Garden.
Patrick Ewing, in his first year as Georgetown’s head coach, was introduced to the Big East with a 91-89 loss to Butler in two overtimes. Earlier, he talked to the Associated Press about new league compared to the original Big East and said:
“For everybody, it’s going to be a dog fight like it was back when I played ...’’
The great thing about this dogfight is they have to come to your arena, as well as your team going to theirs. Watching these early Big East battles this week made me so nostalgic for the days when that was the case in the Big Ten that I wrote a column about the ridiculous turn the hoops schedule has taken for Saturday’s print edition.
You can have a 14-team Big Ten, a 15-team ACC or a 14-team SEC. For basketball, I want the rivalries that are played out fully in the regular season, and that’s what happens in this outstanding second edition of the Big East.