Since last month’s bombshell announcement that Pittsburgh and Syracuse would be defecting to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East realignment and the future of college basketball as we know it has dominated the sport’s headlines, almost daily.
At the 2011 Big East Media Day in Manhattan, realignment was not just the topic du jour; it was the story.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who is no stranger to being openly outspoken about the state of the Big East, got the ball rolling by mentioning the tactical error former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese made in the most recent Big East expansion.
“If any mistake was made, it was not having the foresight years ago to bring in people with football and basketball,” said Pitino in reference to the addition of Marquette and DePaul. “Ten years ago, we just thought basketball, basketball, basketball.”
Pitino was only just getting started, however, as he went on to lay out his true feelings regarding the decisions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to jump ship. “I have no problem with them leaving,” said the brutally honest Pitino. “My problem is they made a decision in 36 to 48 hours. This was not a football decision, this was a basketball decision to strengthen the ACC.”
Notre Dame head man Mike Brey, the conference’s reigning Coach of the Year, was confident that his Fighting Irish program would find a home if the Big East disintegrates, but at the same time wanted to stay where he stands.
“We’ve got a strong identity after five years of figuring it out,” Brey said. “As proud as I am of being the coach at Notre Dame, I’m as proud of coaching in the Big East.”
Brey did exude confidence when he said Notre Dame would “land on its feet” wherever the school decided to seek affiliation, and also provided one of the quotes of the day regarding the entire situation.
“You know how you’re listed ‘day-to-day’? Leagues are listed day-to-day now.”
Reigning national champion Connecticut has been the topic of speculation, as well, after reports linked UConn to the ACC, but head coach Jim Calhoun insisted his team was in the Big East for the foreseeable future.
“We’re in the best basketball conference in America,” remarked an emphatic Calhoun. “That’s where we want to play, and that’s what we look forward to doing.”
Calhoun also served up a dose of truth when approached about the role of gridiron success manipulating the massive shuffle. “It’s cleats, helmets and shoulder pads that are affecting us more than any of us would like,” Calhoun said, bluntly.
Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, who brought the Bearcats back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years, offered this piece of candor when it was his turn to face realignment questions.
“You’ve got a whole lot of people that probably never felt so powerless in their life,” said Cronin. “We need it to solidify sooner rather than later.”
Villanova’s Jay Wright spoke from the heart in regard to coaching brethren Jamie Dixon and Jim Boeheim leaving the conference that their programs have been members of for over thirty years. “Jamie made his name in the Big East,” stated Wright. “If you make your name in the Big East, you’re a hell of a coach. Jim Boeheim, to me, is the Big East. We’re missing a lot with these guys.”
Perhaps the most refreshing analysis regarding the widespread conference movement came from the man who is just walking into the fire.
After five seasons as the head coach at Fairfield, Ed Cooley was not timid or shy in his first Big East media day at the helm of Providence College, delighting those who came to his table to get a glimpse of this year’s Friars team with his impactful sound bites and positive bravado. When realignment was brought up to Cooley, he first said that the issue was something his institution had no control over, then had this to say:
“It is a little wild, but that’s what makes it great. I think we all need wild in our life. It keeps it spicy.”
At the rate things are going, the bottle of preseason hot sauce that is spicing up Big East basketball, without a game even being played yet, is a long way from empty.