It was made official today that the Big East is splitting up, effective July 1st. The so-called Catholic 7 will retain the Big East name, history and MSG for the basketball tournament, while the football schools will have their own league, which looks like it will be called "America 12" (pardon me while I laugh). Even if the split was going to happen next year, this was still going to be the last year of the Big East as we once knew it. Rivalries and the Big East Tournament will never be the same again.
The next nine days will give a glimpse of what will be missed as the winds of college sports have ruined the greatest basketball league assembled. Two rivalries will no longer have scheduled games starting next season; sure they might have games post-split but it won't be the same when these games are being played in December instead of March. The first of these rivalries that are coming to an end is Rutgers-Seton Hall, who will finish their Big East series tonight at the Prudential Center. I'm certain there will be games against these two for years to come, but it will be once a year and losing the round robin nature of the series will hard to get used to. There is a bias when I speak of these two teams since I'm a Seton Hall alum and perhaps I overrate this rivalry (both of us aren't that good at playing basketball). However, I know I'll miss going into every season looking to finish ahead of Rutgers.
The rivalry everyone will miss is Syracuse-Georgetown, which will play it's last scheduled game tomorrow at noon in Washington D.C. Where Rutgers-Seton Hall is like Newcastle-Sunderland in terms of rivalry/derby; the Hoyas vs the Orange are the defining rivalry since the Big East was formed in 1979. Names like Patrick Ewing, Sherman Douglas, Alonzo Mourning, Pearl Washington, Sleepy Floyd and Gerry McNamara are part of Big East history. John Thompson and John Thompson III patrolling the Hoyas sidelines, while Jim Boeheim is Big East hoops since Day 1. Tomorrow, the Cuse have a chance to knock the Hoyas out of a number 1 seed in the Big East tournament and who knows, perhaps they will have another matchup next week in New York. If not, there's no plans right now of these two continuing their rivalry in the new conference.
Next week, for one last time, you will see Syracuse, Pitt, St. John's, Villanova, Louisville and Rick Pitino among others share the Madison Square Garden stage for the last time. One prominent absence will be UConn, who if Georgetown was the representation of the Big East during the glory years of the 80s and Syracuse being the best team throughout the entire history, the Huskies have been the dominant power of the last twenty years. It's already a lesser tournament next week without UConn and retired coach Jim Calhoun. Teams like Notre Dame and Cincinnati know that this is the last time they will get this March trip to NYC for great basketball. As good as Xavier and Butler are, teams like Villanova and St. John's know that not playing Syracuse and Pitt in March makes a Big East title a little hallow.
If you grew up with the Big East, you grow up with basketball in your bones. You knew that how you did in the NCAA Tournament was second to how you did in the Big East Tournament; great to be national champion, but losing in the first or second round doesn't ruin the year if you won it all at MSG. There will be a version that still will have great basketball, with some history, but a lesser version it will be nonetheless. And who knows if Syracuse and Pitt can avoid the pitfalls that happened to Boston College when they left for the ACC. For one more week, let's enjoy what made the Big East great before the reality sets in on what makes college sports infuriating.