Big East Legacy
There's been some discussion regarding the current Big East versus the league it was, up until the most recent conference realignment moves. It's an irrelevant discussion, as the league that was, is part of a bygone era, that will never be duplicated.
For starters you had the geography. The northeast has traditionally been a professional sports market, Yankees/Red Sox, Eagles/ Redskins being the types of games evoking the most passion. But for some reason college basketball developed a following just as passionate. And a natural offshoot of this was the bitter rivalries that developed. So many of these rivalries consisted of grudging respect, but an intense dislike for the opponent. John Thompson declaring with a smirk on his face "Manley Field House is officially closed" or Jim Boeheim shielding Pearl Washington from an on court scuffle at the Garden against Georgetown, is the kind of stuff true rivalries are made from. Not a bunch of suits in an ESPN boardroom, scratching their heads and trying to manufacture one they think they can promote to a gullible public.
Also the Big East was not a two team league. Every member played in a Final Four with the exception of DePaul, South Florida, and Cincinnati. The battles between these titans were played out in the most prominent basketball cathedrals in the country, with an intensity not seen in any other league. These were big media markets, where the spotlight was always on
You also had an amazing bunch of coaching legends as they were embarking on their ascent to the top of their profession. Rick Pitino, (both Providence and Louisville) Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Rollie Massimino, were all young and hungry, and making their mark. Not like the old lions of the current ACC looking to take one final lap before easing into retirement.
Then all of this culminated with the greatest conference tournament in history, at the greatest arena, in the greatest city. The games were intense from start to finish and MSG was filled to the rafters from beginning to end, regardless of who was playing. The bars would be full, arguments were endless, and everyone was having the time of their life. If you loved college basketball, you couldn't possibly ask for more. Eleven bids in a sixteen team league says it all.
All that has changed now. Today, rivalries are decided not by fans and athletic directors, but rather by ESPN concerning who might provide the most revenue to Disney's shareholders. And sadly, the schools and many of the fans are willing to go along with that mindset, if the price is right. Syracuse/Georgetown? A relic from the past, we can view this Saturday, like an old Beatles clip from the Ed Sullivan show.
I enjoy the current version of the Big East and appreciates it's efforts to recapture the magic. There are still some great rivalries, and the competition remains intense. But there is no denying a special time in basketball history is gone forever, not to return here, or anywhere else. Old guard ACC fans would never understand what I'm talking about Imagine the four North Carolina teams and multiply it by about twenty, and you might come close. And to the old time Big East fans, you know exactly what I'm talking about.