For all the hits the Big East has taken in the past year, John Thompson Jr. has no doubt that Hoyas basketball remains strong.
And should other conference members follow Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and others out the door, the Hall of Fame coach who spent nearly 27 seasons on the Hilltop insists that Georgetown’s stature and brand will remain unscathed, even if the league dissolves entirely.
“Georgetown was good before the Big East, and we’ll be good if there’s no Big East!” Thompson declared during a brief interview following Friday night’s game between the Hoyas, now led by his son, and Tennessee. “We hope there is a Big East; we certainly do hope. But we’re not sitting here crying and worrying and wondering whether this is going to be a good program because of the Big East.”
Still, Georgetown and the other basketball-centric founding members of the Big East weren’t calling the shots in the scramble to replace the teams that are bolting for the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12. Last week, Louisville became the seventh Big East in the past year-plus to announce its departure, saying it would join the ACC in 2014.
And the consensus is that the exodus isn’t over. Connecticut and Cincinnati have their bags packed, just waiting for another conference to take them in.
On one hand, the cherry-picking of the Big East schools with high-level football programs shouldn’t concern Georgetown. The Big East apportions its revenue from two pots; basketball-only schools have never shared in the league’s football revenue.
But on the other hand, it is a concern when the defecting football schools happen to be basketball powers, as well — as is the case of Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh, in particular. They’re not only taking their football revenue and prime TV markets from the Big East, they’re also stripping the league of much of its basketball luster.
And for all of Georgetown’s achievements — Thompson’s 1984 NCAA championship chief among them — Hoya basketball is no doubt diminished when the caliber of its Big East peer group is diminished.
Consider the basketball credentials of the outgoing Big East members.
Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia have won three NCAA championships and appeared in 18 NCAA Final Fours. Five of those Final Four appearances have come in the past 20 years.
Compare that with the credentials of the schools taking their place — Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist, Temple and Tulane. They have won zero NCAA championships and appeared in 11 NCAA Final Fours. Only one of those Final Four appearances has come in the past 20 years (Memphis, 2008), and that was vacated because of NCAA violations.
“There is no way that league is going to be viewed as having the same strength,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “Losing Syracuse, Louisville, Pitt — some of the top-earning brands — and replacing them with Tulane, East Carolina [which will compete in football only] and Temple? That doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”
So what should Georgetown do?
Former Seton Hall coach Bill Raftery, now an analyst for CBS and ESPN, believes Georgetown should stand pat and make the best of the new Big East.
“It may not be not as glamorous in their eyes, but there will still be a number of these very fine schools that are really good in basketball that will still be invited to the NCAA tournament,” Raftery said. The Big East “will never get 11 [teams in the NCAA tournament] again or even eight, but maybe four or five.
“Can it slowly get back the image or notoriety that they once had? It can’t happen right away. But I think there are enough solid schools philosophically that can weather this storm. I always say, ‘You take the hit and keep doing what you’re doing.’ ”
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim notes that the reformulated Big East will still have several good basketball teams, such as Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and Memphis.
“All those teams have had success,” Boeheim said. “It’s just a completely different league. It’s no longer the Big East; it’s whatever-you-want-to-call-it.”
Asked whether he felt the basketball-only schools would be better served by forming their own league, Boeheim cautioned that he was “not smart enough” to figure it out. But it’s a plausible scenario, he added.
“There’s no reason that there couldn’t be a viable basketball conference — a very good basketball conference.” Boeheim said. “I don’t know if they’ll go that way or not.”
As Bilas sees it, the Big East’s basketball schools have little leverage in decisions about their future in a college sports world that’s predicated on the money generated by big-time football. “I think they’re in a bad spot,” he said. “The ground underneath them has shifted.”
The only bad option, he said, is pining for the past.
“These aren’t leagues anymore; they are loose associations,” Bilas said. “They are consortia that have very little in common except for their common pursuit of revenue.”