In conference realignment craziness, a plea that UConn won’t join the fray


By: Kels Dayton

There are many things not to like about the new era of college sports. There’s the hypocritical college presidents, who stammer on and on about integrity and tradition, only to throw all of that gobbledygook out the window with the snap of a finger in their gluttonous pursuit of the next million-dollar payday that comes with jumping ship and joining another conference.

There’s the animalistic drool that spews out of the mouths of these presidents when they hear the words television contract, or big market money, and washes away the barrier of lies built around student-athletes and the sanctity of amateurism.

And then there’s the fact that these colleges sell a product produced solely by their athletes, some of whom can’t afford gas for a trip home to see their families, for millions and millions of dollars to television networks like ESPN, CBS, FOX, and ABC.

All of this would be enough to wipe your hands of the whole thing, turn away from the television set and go read a book, something a great many of the quote-unquote student-athletes don’t do often enough to deserve a spot at their institutions.

But enough is never enough. And these college presidents want more.

College presidents often speak of integrity and loyalty, but show very little when it comes to conference realignment. (Picture: Kels Dayton/

So they uproot their athletic programs, treating them like huge corporations and considering their “assets” and “market size.” There’s a full-hearted race towards the biggest payday possible, with less than no regard for tradition, loyalty, or geography.

All of the money comes from these colleges pooling their brand names together, and selling them to various television networks, or in the case of the Big Ten, creating their own television network and controlling the flow of revenue themselves. It’s all about football, and money, and little else as the brick-layered traditions and rivalries that made college sports great crumble and fall to the ground; huge neon signs replacing them.

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It’s always tough to see traditional conferences be broken up. Losing the Big XII would have been a tough pill to swallow for traditional college sports fans had it happened a few months ago, when the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma almost fled their Midwestern brethren for the west coast, in an inexplicable and indefensible money-grab.

But now, as Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame bolt the Big East for the greener-for-now pastures of the ACC, there’s a sickness that pervades the air in Connecticut, as all signs point to our state university following suit.

This is personal.

I grew up on Big East basketball; and specifically, UConn basketball. There’s not much in sports that I love more. It was incredible to watch our feisty leader Jim Calhoun take this tiny program from our tiny state and turn it into a national powerhouse, doing so by challenging the giants of the game in the Big East. When Ray Allen hit his famous off-balance game-winner to knock off Allen Iverson and Georgetown in the 1995 Big East championship game at the Garden, UConn had arrived.

As they continued their march towards three national championships, the run was fueled by feelings of Big East pride, particularly after the Huskies upset Duke in the 1999 NCAA Championship game, when every idiot expert said the Blue Devils would blow UConn away.

That championship meant more because of the conference we played in, and what it stood for. The Big East wasn’t like the ACC, where Duke reigned with its privilege and upper-class aura.

Big East basketball was about toughness, guile, and defense. It was about players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, God Shammgod and Ricky Moore. It was about coaches like Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, and John Thompson. Most of all, it was about tough, inner-city kids knocking down big shots and turning a band of smallish northeastern schools into the best basketball league in the country. All of this was made more sweet by the fact that it flew in the face of our arrogant rivals from the south, the ACC, who acted like they invented basketball.

That Syracuse and Pittsburgh have each decided to jump unabashedly into the ACC is more than unsettling. But rumors that UConn, the team I grew up rooting for, is lustily pursuing a position in the ACC is enough to induce vomiting. If the Huskies abandon their Big East brothers, it’ll be hard to forgive them. It’ll be hard to show up at Gampel Pavillion and stare down at an ACC logo branding the free throw lane.

The lights may be going down on the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo)

Making matters worse is the fact that all of this is going down in the same week that the Big East lost its founder, Dave Gavitt, to congestive heart failure. He was 73 years old.

It was fascinating listening to WFAN’s Mike’d Up: Francesa on the Fan on Monday, when guest and former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese mourned the death of old friend Gavitt and of his league. At the prospect of 16-team superconferences, Tranghese said, “It makes me want to throw up just thinking about that.”

When host Mike Francesa mentioned that he thinks that the major football schools will eventually pull out of the NCAA and create their own money-driven system, Tranghese said, “Up until two years ago, I would have argued with you, because I would have argued that presidents would have loyalty and integrity, but I’ve lost all faith in that.”

Also lost are the great memories the Big East provided its many passionate fans. The crown jewel was the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, which was like the Mecca of early-March madness, where great teams came to do battle in the heart of New York City.

My father and I made many trips to the Garden for some classic day-session basketball, and there weren’t too many better feelings in sports than taking in the best basketball tournament in the country in the world’s most famous arena.

Now ACC commissioner John Swofford is talking about bringing his conference tournament to the Garden, like the Big East never even existed. Talk about gall.

Someone has got to put a stop to this. Someone has got to show restraint, respect, and concern for the long-term future of college athletics. Someone has got to pull themselves from the thickening green haze and realize that all of this chaos is actually bad for business.

I hope it’s UConn. But I’m not holding my breath.


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