State of the Union
Dateline -- London
The pubs of London are gripped with two big stories this week, which led to me overhearing this line last night:
"What do the Big East and Princess Kate have in common?
(Casual note: Wait...for...it...)
"They were both royally screwed and now are suffering from severe morning sickness."
Now that Kate is recovery nicely, the Pub chatter is focused almost entirely on college conference realignment, the Big East and the fate of basketball only schools like Georgetown.
While the conversations in DC seem permanently fixed in the gloom and doom category, the prevailing wisdom of London punters is this is decidedly a good news/bad news story.
So, using the British tradition of looking the bright side of life, (or at least the Monty Python version....as an aside John Cleese said the Big East is not dead --- it ‘s just stunned) let's focus on the good news first.
It's conventional wisdom over on this side of the pond that the teams leaving the Big East will have a much tougher time than the teams they have left behind. Specifically, Londoners see Syracuse moving to the ACC as the beginning of the end of the Orange as an elite basketball program. There is no debate however that Syracuse will continue to lead all of collegiate basketball in felonies, misdemeanors, assaults on female students and all other knucklehead behavior.
As much as I wanted to take this on the credentials of the average London punter, I asked several what they based their theory on. To a person they all pointed to the demise of the Boston College Screaming Eagles.
Here's how they tell the story. For decades, Boston College was one of the most consistent winners in college basketball. A steady stream of overachieving stars - John Bagely, Michael Adams, Dana Barros, the Curley boys and Jared Dudley - routinely brought home 20 win seasons and long runs into the NCAA tournament.
And then one day it all fell apart. Why? Because BC left the Big East. It didn't happen immediately, players recruited into the Big East beat up quite handily on their ACC partners the first couple of years. But as those players' left and new ACC type players arrived, the program started to collapse.
Put simply, BC used to be the beast of New England. Now they're not even the best team in Boston. For God sakes, Harvard beats them every year now in routine fashion. They have fallen to the second division of the ACC and have trouble finishing over .500 even with a schedule of non-conference cupcakes. This year they have already lost to Bryant University, The College of Charleston and, wait for it again, Harvard. And no Jeremy Lin doesn't play there anymore.
The theory here on BC's demise is they've lost their identity upon leaving the Big East. Let's face it; they play a different brand of basketball in the ACC than in the Big East. The Big East emphasizes physicality, strength and length (drink!). The ACC is more of a skills based, finesse league. High school players know that and are drawn to the league and teams that most suits their games. Places like BC are not ever going to get the kind of recruits that typically are drawn to ACC schools and style of play.
And, pay attention here Orange scum, the players drawn to the Big East style are never going want to play in the ACC. And that's the problem for the deserters, particularly Syracuse.
The Orangemen have recruited some great players: Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman and Carmelo Anthony to name, well, the only ones. They are all tough guys who loved the physical, trash talking mentality of the Big East. Future Pearl's are not going to endure Syracuse winters (especially with Ms. Fine gone) having to play in the ACC. Imagine sitting in a recruit's home in Brooklyn and saying with a smile "We get to go to Raleigh Durham three times a year and we have a wonderful conference tournament each year in a nice town called Greensboro. What, you want to play at the most famous arena in the world, MSG? Oh now, Greensboro is much cleaner and safer than nasty old NYC."
Punters here believe Syracuse in particular, and Pitt to a similar extent, will go through a crisis of identity that will almost immediately hit recruiting and will lead to a BC slide into mediocrity and lower division ACC hell. Why do you think Jim Boeheim is so against this move? I doubt he has the best interests of the conference at heart. He knows this is the beginning of the end for him.
So why isn't this all-good news? Well punters here also know that if Georgetown and the Catholic schools don't get their act together, they will all face the same fate as Syracuse.
The Big East has always been a basketball first conference and the identity that those teams have built can still be salvaged if the remaining teams move quickly and aggressively. Adding a few strong basketball programs to the remaining core will salvage the brand identity of the conference and put the teams that stayed at a great advantage to those who will occupy the second division of the ACC.
So that's the advice from London. Let the deserters go, they will soon look like the British Empire. Move quickly to salvage the best of the Big East so they can enjoy the manifest destiny, which they richly deserve. And above all, as Kate moves inevitably toward motherhood, Pippa is still available for all comers.