Big East Mess bad for Rhode Island, PC hoops
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.