“Crossroads, seem to come and go, yeah”
“Melissa”, The Allman Brothers Band
It happens every March in Manhattan. The Big East tournament invades Madison Square Garden while some 42 blocks uptown at another hallowed New York City landmark, the Beacon Theater, the Allman Brothers Band take the stage.
Neither event is a one-night stand. The Big East tourney, which has been a mainstay at the Garden since 1983, begins tonight and will run daily until Saturday’s championship contest. The Allman Brothers, who have called New York City home for at least half the month of March each year since 1989 (except for 2008 when lead singer Greg Allman’s battle with Hepatitis-C compelled them to cancel all dates), are in the midst of an 11 shows-in-17-nights stop at their annual Upper West Side haunt.
And yet, as mercurial and capricious as rock bands –particularly southern rock and blues bands – may be, it is the Big East and not the siblings Allman that is breaking up after this one last gig in Manhattan. It is a Division I basketball conference, and not a group of musicians, that has finally had it with the in-fighting, with the battles over power and cash, that ordinarily cause irreconcilable schisms among rock stars.
Hey, we saw “Almost Famous”, too.
It is almost comical to listen to college hoops broadcasters attempt to explain the balkanization of the Big East in terms that are 1) explicable or 2) logical. During the March 2 contest between Marquette, one of seven Big East institutions headed to the new “Catholic 7”, and Notre Dame, which is currently flipping a coin between spending next season as part of that breakaway septet or joining the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) one year earlier than scheduled, an ESPN commentator did his best to clarify the giant game of Risk that the Big East has become before eventually concluding, and rightfully so, “What a mess.”
Allow us to at least try:
- Fourteen of the 15 current Big East schools will participate in the Big East tournament that begins tonight at 7 p.m. when South Florida and DePaul tip-off. The absentee school is Connecticut, the 2011 national champion, which must sit out as part of NCAA sanctions. The Huskies won five games in as many days back in 2011 to capture the Big East tournament before eventually winning six straight in the NCAA tourney.
- After this tournament seven schools, all with Catholic affiliations, will leave the Big East. They are DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova. Yet, in a divorce deal that Elin Nordegren would envy, those seven institutions –four of which were charter members of the Big East – will retain the Big East name and retain the rights to play their men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden. They will also likely add three schools: Butler, Xavier and Creighton. In other words, the Catholic Nine-plus- Butler.
- The “remaining” Big East schools – the conference is in search of a new name, with “America 12” currently being run up the flag pole – will be current members Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida and new members Houston, Memphis, SMU, Temple and UCF. Oh, and two of those 10 members –of the America 12 (don’t ask) – will defect in 2014 when Louisville heads to the ACC and Rutgers joins the Big Ten. (Okay, you had to ask: the league plans to add four new, new members: East Carolina and Tulane in 2014 and Navy and potentially Tulsa in 2015. So, the Big East will remain the Big East although it will not be known as the Big East and only 25% of its membership will have been with the conference before this great schism. It is at this juncture that I’d like to inform you that a contemporary of the Allman Brothers Band, Blood, Sweat and Tears, still tours even though none of its eight original members are with the group. BS&T is really now just a BS&T cover band, which is what the new Big East, whatever its name may be, will be to the old Big East. As someone said, “What a mess.”)
- Finally, there is Notre Dame, ever the outlier. The Fighting Irish will either join the ACC (in all sports except football) one year earlier than it had originally planned to do (2014-15) before all of the Catholic 7 mayhem began, or they will give the Catholic 7 a one-year try. A sabbatical of sorts. Stay tuned on that.
Anyway, get ready over these next five days and nights – 14 teams, 13 games, to be exact – to hear ESPN commentators wax and wail over the Big East’s history and its demise as we know it. But don’t get too choked up.
The reason behind the Big East’s impersonation of the U.S.S.R. circa 1989 is simple: money, which means football. The conference’s Division I, FBS football schools have much different wants and needs, conference-affiliation wise, than such hoops-only members as Georgetown and Marquette.
“They (the Catholic 7) don’t ever have to worry about football juggling them around again,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told the USA Today. “That was always going to happen.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino agreed. “They should have, in my estimation, broken away from the football schools three years ago,” Pitino told ESPN.com. “I think they waited too long. They should have been fed up a long time ago.”
The league itself only launched in 1980, making it a few months younger than ESPN itself and a full 11 years than the five-man crew formed by brothers Duane and Gregg Allman in Daytona Beach back in 1969. Ironically, both the Big East and the Allman Brothers have had a total of 20 members past and present.
I guess I should mention that no one has ever been a member of both the Allman Brothers Band and the Big East.
Anyway, the Big East is breaking up. But perhaps it is just undergoing, to use a word many of its new/old members can relate to, a resurrection. There will probably still be a Big East basketball tournament in Manhattan next March, and most of the schools involved will be schools you know from the current Big East. They’ll just be former Big East schools that now refer to themselves as Big East schools. Get it?
Meanwhile, Greg Allman and Butch Trucks and the rest of the southern rock icons will probably, God willing, also take the stage next March at the theater located on Broadway between 74th and 75th Streets.
As Greg Allman so aptly puts it in the song at the top of this page, in words that might apply to every revenue-grubbing Division I athletic director in America: “Well, pick up your gear and Gypsy, roll on, roll on.”