Do you remember where you were the moment you heard that the Big East became the best basketball conference in all the land?

Next to the O.J. verdict, I think that this may be the biggest sports-related news of my entire life. And believe me – I still remember where I was when the Juice got loose: eighth grade, r. Woehr’s room.

This time, it caught me completely off guard. I was sitting on that curvy bench inside the lobby of Walsh, debating whether or not I should go to my afternoon class because the weather was so unbelievable. My phone buzzed with a text message. I flipped it open to find: “I know what you are writing your column about.” Two more messages ensued in rapid succession, outlining University President John J. DeGioia’s letter and the five schools to be added, all in 180 characters or less. Thank god for wireless telecommunications devices.

I almost dropped the phone on the floor. I stood up, looked around, contemplated doing a little jig and then smiled and headed off to class.

The truth is, even three days later, I’m speechless. I just don’t know what to say. I’m ecstatic. What I thought was going to be the last hurrah of the Big East has become a two-year lull before Georgetown becomes a member of the best basketball conference in the United States, no questions asked.

Pundits and analysts everywhere are predicting that this conference could get eight or nine teams into the dance each year. That’s unreal. In a good year, the Big East could have more teams playing in March than some mid-major conferences have schools.

If you look at the teams that got added, they are all primarily basketball schools which compete for tournament berths every year. They consistently have solid programs and they compete for tournament berths every year. We’re talking schools like Louisville, like Marquette – places with proud, rich basketball traditions. I mean, that’s what’s replacing Virginia Tech? Maybe if Michael Vick had played basketball there might be more people at VT who care about the program, but last I heard, it wasn’t too stellar.

There are a few drawbacks to the new conference. First and foremost is the fact that our conference is so huge, and I don’t know how they’re going to deal with scheduling. This is the only downer that has me worried at all. It was bad enough when we were a 14-team league and couldn’t play traditional rivalries every year. My entire family went to Villanova, and as soon as I got here, Villanova-Georgetown was one of the biggest games of the year. The fact that we had to play them only twice every three years is already disappointing, and that was with two less teams.

Obviously, the other drawback is the fact that while the conference shuffle strengthens our basketball programs, it hurts Big East football. Losing teams like Tech and Miami is going to hurt because football is king, as far as money goes. That’s how this whole mess got started in the first place. The ACC wanted more teams because they wanted more football money for their conference and they wanted that BCS bid, so they courted Miami.

But for me, I’m not really a college football fan. Seeing as we’re not even Division I-A, should I really care about Big East football? No, not really. As long as we make enough money to get by and keep having basketball seasons, I don’t care about Big East football. Maybe it’s ignorant, maybe it’s dumb, but oh man, thinking about what the Big East tournament might be like, thinking about how conference games are going to be wars, it’s worth it. You know – Georgetown, Syracuse, Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville – their coaches are some of the most high profile in country. Huggins, Crean and Pitino are household names. If you know college basketball, you know these guys. Add them to the likes of Boeheim, Calhoun and Jarvis and it’s like a fantasy.

When I first sat down to write this column, I just couldn’t do it. I would sit at the computer, hold my hands over the keys and my eyes would just glaze over. I started daydreaming about basketball. I thought about what things might be like in 2007. Rick Pitino pacing the boards at a newly-finished cDonough, wondering how on earth he can hope to contain All-American point guard Matt Causey. Then the drool would start, and to keep my keyboard from short circuiting, I would have to snap back into reality.

The truth is I don’t know what else to say. Yeah, the scheduling might be difficult. A 16-team league is going to be unwieldy. Yeah, there are questions about football, but the Big East started with basketball as its premier sport. And that’s what it is now, and that’s what it should be. It’s what I want it to be. I don’t know what else to say but thanks.

Whoever did this – Mike Tranghese, Joe Lang, Jack DeGioia – to everyone and anyone involved in making things happens, thanks. See you in 2005.

Mike Santore can be reached at LACES OUT appears every other Friday.

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