Weathering the Storm of Realignment

mhagandefaultMichael Hagan ’15

We’re only a matter of hours away from the Friars’ first appearance in the Big East title game in twenty years. An automatic bid to NCAA tournament is on the line. The original Big East’s architect’s program seeks to upset the new Big East’s newest team to beat. The championship game is the culmination of a Big East season ripe with what we love most about college basketball. It is a high-energy game in which momentum is key and nothing can be taken for granted. It is the ultimate spectator sport in which the atmosphere of an arena both lends and steals momentum. Schools of every size can build, have built, and will build successful programs. A school’s size and resources matter far less than the commitment and ability of its athletes and coaches. Cinderella stories happen in college basketball, and no powerhouse program can purchase invulnerability.

Conference realignment based on football interests have threatened Providence College and schools like ours in recent years. Concerned by reforms in the NCAA football postseason and fixated on the almighty dollar, larger institutions able to support football programs suddenly decided that there was no room in the college athletics landscape for smaller institutions that could not. Football interests drove a wedge into Dave Gavitt’s basketball focused Big East; it was clear that the Big East was no conference to be in for teams hopeful for a berth in an impending playoff system.

College football’s ability to trump all other athletic interests is simply a reality. One can feel nostalgic for simpler days when conference titles and high profile bowl games were enough for everybody but Notre Dame (and the Fighting Irish could be appeased with an AP or Coaches’ trophy), but there is no going back nor real sense in complaining.

But under threat of being left out in the cold by realignment, we found out who our friends really are. In 1979 when the Big East was founded, intercollegiate friendship was not dictated by likeness in size, budget, or market. In the age of football hegemony, these have become many D1 schools’ only grounds for cooperation. But Providence College and the rest of the Catholic seven (plus honorary Catholic college, Butler University) have weathered the storm. It is a shame that a climate has developed in which the mid-sized private and large public schools that made up the old Big East cannot coexist in a conference, but interscholastic solidarity between those of us that UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, and the like decided they couldn’t be bothered with has brought an exciting new beginning out of what could have easily spiraled into catastrophe.

For tonight (and hopefully for the coming weeks), the Big East is all about basketball. But I am hopeful that the new Big East will offer opportunities for great athletic rivalry coupled with constructive interscholastic cohesion. We are a misfit conference out to prove the worth of mid-sized and small schools on the court, on the fields, and on our campuses. Competitive spirit between athletic rivals can be a powerful motivator and bond when harnessed properly. Following the example of the late Dave Gavitt, Providence College can be a leader in this new conference athletically and otherwise. Competitive rivalries between athletic programs and fruitful relationships conducive for mutual enrichment and collaboration between other campus leaders stand to be developed between these schools that share so much in mission and seek most faithfully to preserve the tradition of Big East basketball unadulterated by destructive football-centric interests. This is one more thing to celebrate as we cheer on the Friars in tonight’s Big East championship game. The novelty of this new conference is solidarity between schools and with tradition. Go Friars!

An ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Requiem for the Big East,” will air Sunday, March 16 at 9 PM. Read a Friar fan’s perspective on the documentary here.

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