Tonight is the final of the last Big East men’s basketball tournament. Yes, there will be a conference called the “Big East” next year that will include original Big East teams such as St. John’s and Georgetown, but the original Big East, the true Big East, dies tonight as a victim of the crazily shifting college sports landscape. It makes me happy that there is an original conference member, Syracuse, in the title game, and it feels just that there is also one of the newer members involved.
I no longer follow college sports because, as the recent Penn State football scandal showed, they have become “too big to fail” no matter what the consequences of keeping them afloat, and thus are detrimental to the educational mission of colleges and universities. But I will be watching the Syracuse-Louisville game tonight to pay homage to the Big East and the important role it played in my life. Some of my earliest sports memories are of hard-fought games between Syracuse, Georgetown, and St. John’s (Alas! Remember when St. John’s used to be good?) in the mid- to late-1980s on CBS, and I remember watching Big East tournament games on WWOR. As a teenager, I would rush home from school to watch early rounds of the tournament on ESPN with Sean McDonough and, especially, Bill Raftery announcing (“Sean McDonough, Syracuse comes out playing mantoman!” Of course Syracuse always plays a 2-3 zone, but I’ve heard Raftery use his tagline on the Orange anyway, and I would be disappointed if he didn’t.).
I was a Syracuse fan, but I always rooted for the conference, as well. It was a matter of regional pride. Yes, I hate Georgetown, but I’d root for them against an ACC team any day (The same with UConn. It kills me that Syracuse will be in the ACC next year.). It is sad to see an institution that has always felt like home to me go away.