With conference play just getting underway, college basketball fans better get a good look at the Big East this season and enjoy it, because after this 2012-2013 campaign, the Big East as it’s been known for the last 30-plus years, will be no more.
The league was founded in 1979 with Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Boston College as its inaugural members. Villanova and Pittsburgh joined soon after. In recent years, while the conference has expanded to 16 teams – making it the largest league in the country – adding teams like DePaul, Louisville and South Florida, the essence of the conference never left. Now, as a result conference realignment, the legendary league is staring at its last days. The ensuing disintegration was totally apparent at the beginning of the season when longtime UCONN head coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement, and Syracuse announced that they’d be leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013-2014. Thus, two keys Big East figureheads, Calhoun and Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, were already going to be missing.
In 2013 Memphis, Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida and Tulane will all be latching on to the Big East, while charter members Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova, DePaul and Marquette (aka the “Catholic 7″), will be moving on to start a conference which is still yet to be determined. The Big East, then, is looking at almost 100 percent turnover going forward, with Connecticut potentially as the lone original member remaining. What will become of the conference, or who will keep the Big East name, is unknown.
During the 1980′s, between Georgetown, Villanova and St. John’s, the Big East was the toughest conference in America. Since then, UCONN, Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh have emerged as national powers as well, and it has arguably been the best, most consistent men’s basketball conference every season. In 1985, the league sent a record three teams to the Final Four; in 2011, they set a record sending 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. Over the years, no conference has offered up more thrilling moments than the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, from Ray Allen‘s buzzer beater in 1996, to the historic six overtime battle between Syracuse and UCONN in 2009, to Kemba Walker‘s stepback in 2011.
The list of players who have earned their stripes in the Big East is seemingly never ending and reads like a who’s who of basketball: Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, Victor Paige, Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, Ron Artest, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Kemba Walker, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Coleman. Coaches – namely Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, John Thompson Jr., Lou Carnesecca and Rollie Massamino – have emerged as national stars, as well. So enjoy the Big East while you can, because after this season, it will never be the same.