The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 13, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: Conference shifts mean big changes for hoops’ schools

MORGANTOWN — In a way it has become the dirty little secret of this conference realignment mania that has captured the attention of the American sports fan.

It is looked upon as a football phenomenon and, in truth, it is football and the money it generates that has driven the move toward realignment. It has touched everyone in the collegiate sports world, changing not only the map of college athletics but the face of the games which they play.

The effects are magnified most in the Big East, perhaps because the law of the jungle that only the strong shall survive is as true in college athletics as it is nature. Being the weakest conference has meant that the Big East has fallen prey to the predators from the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC.

It being October, in the heart of the football season, the focus has been on that sport and its reconstruction, one that eventually has to lead to a playoff system among the major conferences and it is certainly very much up in the air whether or not the Big East will be part of that picture.

  But the secret is that the destruction of the Big East is going far further than in football. In fact, if the Big East Conference were to be disassembled as a football league, it would not really be an earthshaking event, considering that it has already been stripped to bare bones via the exit of Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College and now Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

  What, though, of the greatest basketball conference ever assembled, a 17-team monstrosity that is as likely as not to put eight teams into the NCAA Tournament, get two of them to the Final Four — maybe even all four, as on one occasion — and leaving the nation stunned if they do not take home a national title.

  The names of the teams are synonymous with basketball success … Connecticut, Syracuse, Georgetown, St. John’s, Louisville, Cincinnati, even DePaul and Notre Dame, to say nothing of the school that gave the world Jerry West, West Virginia.

 Already Syracuse has defected and Pitt goes along with it, headed for the ACC, the conference which it dethroned as the king of the collegiate game. Connecticut is begging to get out, and if it succeeds the conference loses not only those teams but coaches Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun, to say nothing of Pitt’s Jamie Dixon.

  The ACC would seem to have reclaimed the top spot in the sport and already is talking of playing its conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, which would be a lethal blow to the Big East’s pride and power.

  How far behind can it be that Rick Pitino could bolt Louisville or, forgive the thought, Bob Huggins leave West Virginia?

  On Wednesday afternoon, in the Coliseum, Huggins was asked about this restructuring of college sports, of his view of the potential breakup of the Big East, for there is more than just talk going on that the Catholic schools will break away from the football playing schools and carry the Big East banner with them.

 “I don’t know, man,” Huggins began, “In my first eight years at Cincinnati, I was in three different leagues, so I am a veteran when it comes to league switching, very accomplished at it.”

  He didn’t say he enjoyed it, but each time that happened, Cincinnati moved up the food chain until it finally resided in the Big East.

  “Actually, when I was at Akron, we went Division I football and got knocked out of the Ohio Valley Conference. We went independent, we went from the Northeast Conference to the Mid-American Conference,” he said.

  Again, it was moving up.

  This, though, would appear to be a step backwards for the Big East, backwards for WVU.

  A storied program that has been to the Final Four in the last two years has found itself residing in a conference where it’s future is uncertain and where it is at the discretion not of basketball people but, instead, of football people.

 Huggins is not happy with that at all and says the basketball people have no one to blame but themselves.

  “It is all our own fault, our own fault,” he said softly. “Basketball coaches, by and large, go to a meeting with basketball coaches and we can’t agree on anything.”

  In truth, it has always been that way because of the complexities of the sport and the sheer number of schools that play compared to football.

 The truth is, and I don’t mean this in the wrong way because I have been one of those guys, so I think I can say it where some other guys can’t, we have Division III coaches in our meeting that don’t have any idea what we do,” Huggins said.

 “We have Division II coaches in our meeting that don’t have any idea what we do,” he continued. “Then you have so called low majors, mid majors and high majors, and there’s a big difference. Seemingly, everyone protects their own interest. We haven’t done a very good job of that.”

  Indeed, it is like holding major league baseball meetings and having the Bluefield Blue Jays in the same meeting with the New York Yankees. They come from two different worlds, just as West Virginia is different that Glenville State.

  Somehow, someway, college basketball’s powers have to stand up and protect what is theirs, which includes the greatest event in American sports – the NCAA Division I basketball tournament.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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