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Big East Mess bad for Rhode Island, PC hoops

September 19, 2011

There was a cruel irony to the death last Friday of  Dave Gavitt: his demise occurred on the day that arguably his greatest achievement in a career filled with accomplishments, the Big East athletic conference, began to unravel.

The long-simmering conflict between the schools that play big-time college football and those who play only basketball erupted when Syracuse and Pitt, two charter members of the Big East, decided to leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference, following the lead of another early Big East member, Boston College.

Moreover, it looks like the University of Connecticut, the reigning NCAA hoop champion, is set to take the money and run to the ACC too. That move would drip with hypocrisy; Uconn hoop coach Jim Calhoun sharply criticized BC when the Eagles left the Big East for the ACC’s dough.

In case you are delusional and really believe college athletics is about touchdowns, pom poms, zone presses and `student athletes’ the unspooling of the Big East is frankly about just one thing: Money and its corrupting influence on college sports.

Rhode Islanders should care about this issue for several reasons, most prominently because the Big East headquarters is located in Providence and has been ever since Gavitt started the league in 1979. The three commissioners, beginning with Gavitt, have all been Rhode Islanders with ties to Providence College. Mike Tranghese took over when Gavitt left and the current commissioner John Marinatto, became commissioner when Tranghese retired.

The Providence Journal has done a fine job covering and explaining the Big East splintering. There is no journalist in America who knows as much about the Big East and Gavitt’s career as ProJo columnist Bill Reynolds. (The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan is a very close second). And ProJo  basketball writer Kevin McNamara has done a great job laying out all the implications for the Big East and especially the uncertain future that now confronts Providence College basketball.

While football is king when it comes to conference politics, the Big East basketball tournament in Madison Square Garden every March is an exceptionally valuable television property.

The Roman Catholic schools that don’t play football, including PC, Georgetown and St. John’s, could be left out in the cold.

And University of Rhode Island fans gloating in their Rhody Blue t-shirts over PC’s  problems should worry that it could hurt URI hoops too. What happens if the Big East grabs Atlantic 10 schools with solid hoop programs like Temple, LaSalle, St. Joe’s  and  Xavier. The Ryan Center won’t be so much fun then.

The erosion of the Big East is a blow to Rhode Island’s economy too. If you think the Dunk is going to be overflowing with fans watching the Friars play Vermont, New Hampshire and  Maine, you believe in the Easter Bunny. Downtown Providence bars and restaurants fill for PC games against Connecticut, Syracuse and Pitt, not for pushover teams from hockey-school conferences. Providence, once the capital of New England college basketball, could be reduced to a garbage time  afterthought.

Tranghese was able to successfully reconfigure the Big East 6 years ago when BC, Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC. But the loss of Syracuse, Pitt and UConn would be an especially large hurdle to clear for Marinatto.

“If  Dave were alive, he would not be happy today,” Tranghese told the New York Times in a story published yesterday.

The best article on the corruption of college sports out there at this moment is in the most recent Atlantic Monthly. It was written by Taylor Branch and is a reminder that big money had turned college sports in little more than a big scam that institutionalizes widespread cheating and exploitation of  the so-called student athletes  many of them unsophisticated African-American kids from impoverished backgrounds. The whole thing reminds one that college sports hasn’t moved much beyond the first chapter of arguably the greatest American novel of the 20th Century, `Invisible Man’  by Ralph Ellison.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy Goins permalink
    September 19, 2011 6:46 pm

    Georgetown does have a football team…

  2. Rhody permalink
    September 19, 2011 8:03 pm

    Georgetown plays in the non-scholarship Patriot League, which is a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (Formerly Division I-AA). St. John’s may have a club team, but as a largely commuter school, I doubt it.

    While it may indeed have a football team, Georgetown doesn’t spend or take in nearly as much as Pitt, Syracuse or even UConn do when it comes to the pigskin.

    The revenue that big-time college football provides is what drove these SU and Pitt to abandon the Big East, pure and simple and Scott’s point is well taken.

    • September 19, 2011 8:15 pm

      I love all Hoyas but Georgetown DOES NOT play big-time Division 1 college football. And it is Big Football that is unspooling the Big East

  3. September 19, 2011 8:13 pm

    Excellent piece Scott, any dissolution of the Big East has cultural and economic impact on Rhode Island and my alma mater Providence College.

    First off, the passing of Dave Gavitt at the, arguably “young” age of 73 is truly sad. He was a treasure for PC, for college basketball and even for us here in RI by creating and locating the conference headquarters here.

    For many of us here the Big East ‘is’ basketball not necessarily football, though that sport creates more money for colleges.If Pitt, Syracuse and UCONN pull out of the league, big attractions are gutted out of the mix that draws us to the Dunk and excites RI sports fans. And if Rutgers, West Virginia and others run to the ACC we’ll be back to Yankee Conference days, one of the weakest and least followed sports conferences in the conference. New England as a whole will be the loser.

    As a PC grad I regularly aver that small Carholic colleges colleges in the East like PC, ,Assumption in Worcester, Canisius,Manhattan, St. John’s and St. Bonaventure in New York, St Joseph’s in Philly, and probably Seton Hall in NJ, literally brought college basketball into the big leagues in the early days because they could not afford football programs. And Dave Gavitt’s Big East legacy was the culmination of all those years of effort to bring good sports programs to local fans throughout the Northeast..

    Let us hope that the Big East can still remain big !

  4. September 20, 2011 12:24 am

    This is sad and bad.

  5. September 22, 2011 6:41 pm

    In addition , you have to add the Cost of fixing over the Dunk. The State with PC support took the expensive route when fixing over the Dunk, paying to much when they bought it from the City of Prov, and then with cost overruns. This was done when it was evident that the situation that is coming true today was know when the Dunk renovations took place. In the mean time, in-state tuition at the instiutions of Higher Ed in the State have gone up an average of over 8% for maybe the last 7 years. Yes, it is a sad day, for but different reason than others on this post.


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