By 1985, the conference had won two national titles and had been represented in the Final Four five times, with three schools — Georgetown, St. John’s and eventual champion Villanova — in the 1985 semifinals. Two years later, two more schools — Syracuse and Providence — reached the Final Four. Two years after that, it was Seton Hall. A year later, Connecticut emerged as a power and just missed the Final Four.
Then came football — and chaos.
Wednesday’s announcement that Louisville will leave the Big East for the ACC in two years makes one thing crystal clear: It is time for the real Big East schools to return to their roots. It is time for the league’s basketball schools to abandon the pretense that they can be part of a football conference and go back to the brilliant concept the late Dave Gavitt brought about more than 30 years ago.
Consider the geography of the so-called Big “East” two years from now. It will include two teams from Florida (which is, at least, in the eastern time zone); one from Louisiana; one from Tennessee; two from Texas; one from Wisconsin; one from Illinois; one from California and one from Idaho. Georgetown fans no doubt can’t wait for traditional rivals such as Houston, SMU, Central Florida and Tulane to come to Verizon Center. And let’s not even discuss the logistics involved for non-revenue athletes who don’t travel on chartered airplanes.
That’s not even the main issue at this point. For all intents and purposes, the Big East no longer exists. It should be re-named Conference-Anywhere or Conference-We’ll-Take-Anyone-We-Can-Get-As-Long-As-You-Field-A-Football-Team. A bit unwieldy, but accurate. The saddest part in all of this is the fact that Mike Tranghese, Gavitt’s successor as commissioner, brought football into the conference 21 years ago to appease Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College; all three, naturally, have bolted for the ACC.
Once all the dust settles, there will be seven former Big East schools calling themselves ACC schools: the aforementioned trio along with Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame (sort of) and Louisville. There will be just seven teams left that were in the ACC before ACC Commissioner John Swofford made it his life’s mission to destroy the Big East. Maybe that league should be called the Big ACC. (Not better, certainly bigger).
Louisville plays good football — better than anyone in the ACC other than perhaps Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech (pre-2012). It plays great basketball. It wanted out of the Big East because the league is going to be treated as a second-class citizen under the new playoff setup beginning in 2014. That the ACC continues to blunder along with first-class status is baffling, considering its last meaningful football win was in the 1950s when Jim Tatum coached former member Maryland. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but not by that much.