The Big 12, the Big East, and Two Quotes

In all that has transpired in conference realignment, it's hard to pick out what's been most amazing. With Missouri's acceptance (finally) into the SEC, the dust seems to be settling. Now might be a good time to glance backward for diamonds in the dust.

Some of the comments made in the aftermath of the second ACC raid on the Big East were just stunning.

I'm not talking about the passionate comments made by WVU fans. Overall I think they were pretty great through all the turmoil. Question their grammar or sometimes their common sense if you want, but don't question their loyalty or their passion.

The stunning comments I'm talking about came from a few public figures.

A number of those comments came from Big East Commissioner John Marinatto, asserting the continued relevance of the Big East conference. I know he had to put up a confident front, but when Pitt and Syracuse dropped the bombshell that they were leaving the Big East, the conference was immediately and terribly diminished, and bringing in any number of C-USA schools or service academies, or schools in the Central or Mountain or even Pacific time zones won't change that. How does John Marinatto still have his job in the wake of the second ACC raid? How does such monumental failure not require that he be fired?

The damage that's been done to the Big East conference saddens me.

I was thrilled when WVU was invited to join the Big East. I recall telling my son, who was about 11 at the time, how much I looked forward to a day when WVU would cut down the nets in Madison Square Garden as Big East champions. I'm glad I lived to see it. Thank you, Da'Sean Butler, Coach Huggins, and that great championship team of 2010.

When West Virginia joined the conference for basketball, I relished the thought of seeing WVU play Georgetown, and I took my son to that first Big East game in the Coliseum. The Mountaineers took the lead with just five seconds left, and then we watched Allen Iverson drive the length of the court for a game-winning shot as time expired. What a heartbreaker! But it was exciting to finally be in such a great conference. I still have our tickets from that game.

And it was great, too, to be in a football conference with such long-time rivals as Pitt and Syracuse. And Boston College. And Virginia Tech and Miami. Remember the 1993 win over Miami? Remember winning the first full Big East football championship and the Lambert Trophy? How fantastic was that?

Do yourself a favor sometime and stop by WVU's Brohard Hall of Traditions in the Puskar Center for a couple of hours. Enjoy seeing the Big East championship trophies and the Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl trophies. Enjoy the videos and the mementos and the memories. Listen to Jack Fleming again.

Looking back now to the time before the first ACC raid, we had a very fine Big East conference in football as well as hoops. And now it's virtually dead and gone.

These things happen in life. In the blink of an eye. In a New York minute. Some good things, some bad. We take the bad with the good and pick up the pieces and move on. What else can we do?

And in the grand scheme of things, this wasn't the death of a loved one. It just sort of felt like it. For WVU fans, we can now look forward to competing in the Big 12. Who could have imagined that a decade ago?

I'm delighted the Mountaineers have landed a spot in the Big 12. It could have turned out differently. Our invitation could have gone to Louisville. And I hope that in a year or two, the Cards will be joining us in the Big 12 Conference. We hear so many put-downs of WVU that it feels good to be wanted for a change. It feels great to be invited to join a conference that has the value that John Marinatto tries to claim for what will be left of the Big East.

You know that saying about putting lipstick on a pig? I think of it from time to time whenever there's another pronouncement from Providence about how strong the Big East remains and how rosy its future is.

I believe West Virginia University is very fortunate to have President Jim Clements and Athletic Director Oliver Luck at WVU's helm. I believe they managed to get WVU into the best conference affiliation possible. As a WVU graduate and fan, I want to say thank you to both of them.

* * *

In the title of this article, I mention "Two Quotes." They have to do with integrity. And hypocrisy.

I thought there was a strong stench of the latter in the aftermath of the second ACC raid on the Big East.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said, speaking of the ACC's lack of interest in inviting Notre Dame as a non-football member, "I think the strength of the ACC has been its academics, its integrity and its equal (distribution) of income ... I would not want any member that had an outside game."

I know I'm cutting and pasting here, but focus on this part of that quotation: "I think the strength of the ACC has been ... its integrity."

Really? Well, others are free to continue to somehow respect Duke University if they wish. I've read speculation that Duke and its men's basketball coach played central roles in the second raid by the ACC on the Big East. Maybe that's true, and maybe it isn't. Either way, "integrity" is not the word that comes to my mind in describing them now. Not Duke, not Mr. Krzyzewski, not anyone associated with the ACC. I'm sure they won't lose any sleep over my appraisal of them.

And then there's Notre Dame. That's the school that John Marinatto says has been the Big East's greatest supporter, the source of strength that's done everything in its power to hold the Big East together.

In the aftermath of the announcement that Pitt and Syracuse were leaving the Big East for the ACC, here's part of what Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick had to say:

"I don't understand it. How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you're affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy, as presidents like to call it? I'd like to know how much of these discussions are: What's right? What is the best thing for the larger enterprise, and how many other schools would be adversely impacted?"

Swarbrick criticized Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg for being one of the leaders in trying to keep the Big East together and then, "with no notice to anybody, abandoning it. That's hard to understand in the context of an industry in which collegiality and integrity are supposed to be such key parts."

As Geno Auriemma, coach of the UConn women's basketball team, subsequently and eloquently pointed out, and as virtually every fan of the Big East over the years knows without any doubt, Notre Dame's decision-makers could have cemented the future success of the Big East for decades to come. All they had to do was bring their football team into the conference that's been their home for their other sports. I'm pretty sure the other Big East schools would have bent over backwards to accommodate them, to let them retain their separate TV contract, probably even to cut them a break on their scheduling. If a decade ago Notre Dame had just done (to quote its athletic director) "what's right" and what was "the best thing for the larger enterprise," the Big East probably would still have Pitt and Syracuse. It probably would still have Miami and Virginia Tech and Boston College. It probably would still have West Virginia. And all of those schools could still have been proud to be members of the Big East conference.

But Notre Dame deemed itself too good to associate with the rest of us in football. The school was too selfish for that. Like most other institutions, Notre Dame put what its leaders perceived as the school's own best interests ahead of the best interests of affiliated institutions -- in this case, the other schools in our conference. And yet Notre Dame's athletic director criticizes Pitt for lacking collegiality and integrity? Really?

I suppose we WVU fans could be equally criticized by some for wanting WVU to get out after Pitt and Syracuse announced they were departing. I suppose we could be somehow criticized for wanting our school to find a better, more stable, more highly regarded conference rather than staying in the Big East and trying to rebuild it yet again. But I don't think WVU could have saved the Big East by staying put. As Steve Politi wrote in a New Jersey Star-Ledger column about Big East hoops, the conference is dying, either by subtraction or addition. I wish our former conference mates the best, and any new schools that join the Big East. But it was time for us to go.

I used to love having WVU in the Big East conference. Now I look forward to having WVU be a member of the Big 12. It'll be fun seeing the Big 12 schools come to play in Morgantown. More important, participation in that conference should bring far greater revenues to the university, and I'm hopeful that will mean additional sports and more athletic scholarship opportunities for men and women at WVU.


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