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In the middle of ruminating about what once was, John Thompson Jr. stopped for a minute to smirk about what could be.
Folded into an arm chair in the cramped space he still calls his office at McDonough Gym, the former Georgetown coach took a reporter on an entertaining trip down memory lane, sharing tales of the Big East in its glory day. With the league's end so near on that March day, Thompson was nostalgic, feisty and fuming about the death of the conference he cherished, seeing little to celebrate in the era of conference realignment.
But then he got to thinking, imagining really, about what was about to happen, and he started to laugh to the point of a guffaw.
"My biggest joy would be to see Jimmy Boeheim in a coaches meeting in the ACC, and those boys down South saying, 'We don't do things like that down here, boy.' Now I can see Boeheim, he'll get to whining.''
|Jim Boeheim are Syracuse are leaving behind the comfy, familiar surroundings of the old Big East. Now it's on to the ACC.|
"'We don't want this and we want that,' and they'll say, 'Boy, you're in our league now.' I thought a lot about that. I would love to see that. I would laugh and laugh.''
Thompson's devilish wish is about to come true.
The year of living awkwardly in college basketball officially kicks off this week as leagues nationwide host their annual media days.
Usually these events are tailor-made for C-SPAN, stuffed with invigorating Bull Durham clichés about the oh-so-serious state of each program.
This year they'd be better suited for HGTV or TLC -- think "House Hunters" (not everyone likes or intends to stay in their new home) crossed with "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" (what in the hell is this league all about anyway?).
In Charlotte, the media will meet the new ACC, which now includes the Atlantic Coast-hugging towns (not exactly) of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, N.Y. and South Bend, Ind. (Of course, the Big Ten has more members than Heinz has sauce ingredients, so who are we to quibble with geography?)
Pittsburgh and Notre Dame eagerly jumped aboard, Syracuse is grudgingly coming around, and black sheep Maryland is itching to get out.
The city of Memphis will host the new American Athletic Conference gathering. This league, born out of the ashes of realignment, includes vagabonds Cincinnati and Connecticut (contentedly in the league, they say, but if given truth serum, they would admit they'd love to get out); Rutgers and Louisville (renters waiting for their new homes to be ready); and Memphis and Temple (who could have sworn they were part of a Big East news conference just a few months ago).
And let's not forget the Big East meeting at Chelsea Piers in New York City. It's still the Big East, except that it's added stops in Indianapolis and Omaha, Neb.
"It's definitely weird,'' said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who will go to Memphis for American Athletic Conference media days, as opposed to New York for the Big East. "But I'm sure it's a lot more unusual for Jim Boeheim than Mick Cronin. If he can do it, shoot, I can too.''
It's not like the coaches have any choice. These decisions are not made by the guys walking the sidelines. Administrators make them, eyeing the two fundamental F's in college athletics -- football and finances.
When the news first broke about Syracuse joining the ACC, Boeheim was about as excited as Jim Boeheim is about anything. Time has turned anger into acceptance, though if you catch him on the right day he'll let you know how he feels.
One of those right days came back in March. On the eve of the Orange's last league game against Georgetown, a more nostalgic Boeheim talked about how his team got from road trips to D.C. to road trips to Durham, N.C.
"You have to have people with big-picture ideas to run things,'' he said. "When you have good people in those positions, you end up in a good place. When you have the wrong people, which we seem to have a lot of, you end up in the wrong place.''
|Rick Pitino and Louisville will defend their national title, but they won't defend their conference title. Why? They are moving into a new league.|
Now that it's almost here, the ever-pragmatic Boeheim knows there's no sense fighting a fight you can't win.
"I'm 100 percent ACC,'' he said. "I'm not even thinking about anything else. You've got to move on in this business.''
At least the Orange can feel confident they are trading in one pretty swanky home for another of equal value. The Big East was arguably the best basketball conference in the country; the ACC is about to take its spot.
The king is dead. Long live the king.
That's not exactly the case in the American Athletic Conference, a modular home built on the fly that will be little more than temporary housing for some occupants.
Memphis, Temple, Cincinnati and Connecticut are there mostly because there was nothing else on the market. All four were in the Big East.
Well, sort of.
Memphis and Temple and the Big East were more like celebrity marriages, over before the ink dried on the papers. They were introduced and feted, then booted and left on the side of the road before American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco scooped them up, along with the Bearcats and Huskies.
"I've just gone with it in stride,'' Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. "I don't think it's that big of a deal. The rules of the game haven't changed and, in basketball, there's so much parity. Everyone is good.''
Certainly, it beats the alternative and, with a solid television package, there is more than a glimmer of hope around the American. That quartet of teams, plus Louisville, makes for a pretty nice little starter basketball league.
But if we're going to be honest -- and no one is, so we will be for them -- any one of these teams would happily jump if another, more reputable league called with a nicer place to live.
Two of them, in fact, will. Louisville and Rutgers win the awkward sweepstakes. They are essentially renting the American until the paint dries on their new digs.
Next year the Cardinals and Scarlet Knights move on to the greener pastures of the ACC and Big Ten, respectively.
"It's limbo,'' Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "It's something we have to get through. But it would be a lot harder, I think, if we didn't have a lot in common with the other schools. Cincinnati and Connecticut, I know, aren't leaving, but they tried like hell to leave just like us.''
No, this won't be awkward at all.