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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
ACC in MSG made Tranghese nauseous

By Eamonn Brennan

On Sunday, ACC commissioner John Swofford had a conference call. On this conference call, he was asked by ESPN's Andy Katz whether the ACC had considered hosting its conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. After all, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are prominent northeastern basketball programs with large fan bases in and around the New York area, and the Garden is one of the few marquee conference tournament venues out there. Would the ACC leverage that new membership into a higher profile conference tournament?

Swofford's response was brash, honest and not all that conciliatory:
"I don't think there's any question that taking a look at New York and Madison Square Garden would be very appealing for Atlantic Coast Conference basketball fans -- and even more so now with even more teams in closer proximity," Swofford said. "With that being the media center of the world, so to speak, we'd probably be remiss if we didn't think of it in those terms."

Frankly, Swofford would probably be remiss if he didn't at least consider the idea of the ACC tournament in Madison Square Garden. It just makes sense, you know? Syracuse and Pittsburgh provide enough impetus, but the addition of Connecticut may put it over the top. Why not float the idea?

No matter how much financial sense it makes, rest assured that Big East types didn't much like the idea of an ACC incursion. On Monday, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese joined WFAN's Mike Francesca to discuss the Big East moves in the wake of conference forefather Dave Gavitt's passing, and Tranghese and Francesca both utterly recoiled at Swofford's idea. (If you saw Tranghese's interview on "Outside The Lines", you already know how the former commish feels about Syracuse and Pittsburgh's move.) In fact, Tranghese admitted the idea made him want to "throw up":
Tranghese: "Every year I go to the tournament, Mike, and it's so good to see the Garden reinvigorated. And now the ACC is talking about having this rotation where they're going to bring their tournament to New York for a year --"

Francesca: "No way."

Tranghese: "Just give me a break."

Francesca: "They're not bringing the ACC tournament to Madison Square Garden. That is never happening."

Tranghese: "You know, Gene DeFillippo of Boston College and John Swofford of the ACC -- I don't think it was their intent, but I found it highly objectionable and I found it disrespectful that on the day Dave Gavitt died they're talking about bringing southern-based teams to Madison Square Garden. Like we're going to go to the Clemson-NC State game. Trust me, Mike, I wanted to throw up when I heard that."

This may seem a little overblown. It's just a basketball tournament, guys! Can't we all get along? Overblown or not, though, it's an excellent window into the deep betrayal old-school Big East types have felt upon learning of Syracuse and Pittsburgh's surprise moves. This type of sentiment is why you can understand conference realignment financially and hate it emotionally. The Big East was a point of pride for East Coast basketball fans. It was a gathering point, a regional marker. That's what all conferences were, or at least seemed to be.

Now -- whether you forgive Syracuse and Pittsburgh's decisions or not, and there are plenty who would argue that neither move is particularly good for either school's basketball program -- the Big East and the ACC and the Big 12 and pretty much every conference is going to be a random amalgamation of teams that best serve each other's respective profit motives. There's nothing romantic about it. There's no solidarity here. It's money for the sake of money, a desperate, fearful grab for more eyeballs and more cash.

In the process, the Big East went from a regional point of pride to -- if it's lucky -- a league that must merge with the Big 12's leftovers to preserve any hope of survival.

This is where college sports is moving, and it's not difficult to understand the reasons why. But you can understand the reasons, as Tranghese does, and still be appalled by the way the decisions are made. You don't have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Big East enthusiast for that to resonate. It's happening everywhere, and no amount of romance or tradition is going to stop it now.