It started 34 years ago, founded on the promise of basketball. Tough, skilled, in-your-face, must-see basketball.

It ended this past week. With a whimper, with a sigh, with a murmur and a soft fade, it left us in the least fitting way possible. Louisville took down Syracuse 78-61 in the final contest. There were long three-pointers, big dunks and a roaring comeback. It was a good, solid college basketball game.

It was not a Big East men’s basketball game.

This was no slugfest. This was not a heavyweight bout like the one just 24 hours earlier between the Orange and the Hoyas. It had no buzzer beater, like Connecticut guard Kemba Walker’s epic step-back jumper of two years past. There were no scorer’s tables jumped on in celebration, like Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf did four years ago during one of the many climaxes of the six-overtime classic between ’Cuse and Connecticut in 2009.

Louisville and Syracuse were our last hopes to provide a suitable end to the conference we have come to know so well. In the championship game of the conference tournament, the two teams ushered out the Big East. But they didn’t do it justice.

Of course, they can’t be blamed. There was no way any single game could have lived up to the all the brilliant basketball we’ve seen since 1979. But it was a sucker punch to see a game as lifeless as the one we witnessed last Saturday night.

The Big East has always stood for basketball excellence. Georgetown put the conference on the map with an appearance in the national championship game in 1982 and a title in 1984. The year after, they found themselves in the Final Four with fellow conference members St. John’s and Villanova. The success snowballed from there. The storied conference has racked up 16 appearances in the Final Four, and six times a member has emerged as the last team standing in college basketball, withUConn, Georgetown, Syracuse and Villanova all winning national championships.

The personalities, though, were just as meaningful as the basketball. The warriors of the court brought the game to life. The Mount Rushmore of the Big East has to include Patrick Ewing, Derrick Coleman, Chris Mullin and either Ray Allen, Dwayne Washington or Allen Iverson.  The list of honorable mentions for vital contributions to Big East lore stretches even longer. Everyone from Sleepy Floyd, the first star player at Georgetown, to Gerry McNamara, the energizer bunny of themid-2000s Syracuse teams, to guys like Walker, Scottie Reynolds, Troy Murphy, Billy Donovan,Carmelo Anthony, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo warrant in-depth mentions in any Big East retrospective.

And how could we forget the coaches? The leading men brought another layer of enmity to the rivalries and passion to the profession.  John Thompson Jr. and Jim Boeheim, Lou Carnesecca andRollie Massimino started it all off, helping to make a name for the Big East. Boeheim, of course, remains; he is flanked now by JTIII, Rick Pitino and so many more as some of the best coaches in the nation continue to ply their trade in the Big East.

But somewhere along the line, somewhere after perhaps its finest collective moment, the Big East lost its way. In 2011, the Big East sent eleven teams to the NCAA tournament, a record number of schools sent to the Big Dance from one conference.

It hasn’t been the same since.

Conference realignment in the name of football and increased revenue has laid waste to what once was the proudest conference out there. When the realignment dominoes first began to fall a few years ago, the Big East remained impervious to the shocks, bunkered up in its history and tradition, a conference too proud to succumb to such petty changes.

Or so we thought. It was too good to last. A basketball conference like the Big East couldn’t survive in the big money world of college football. And so the cracks started showing. And before we knew it, the Big East began to crumble, the most sturdy basketball conference there was smashed to pieces like the backboard after Jerome Lane “sent it in” all those years ago.

West Virginia bolted this year for the Big 12, which is the basketball equivalent of trading in your Mustang for a brand new Smart Car. Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse and Notre Dame all are departing in the very near future for the greener pastures of the ACC. With the writing on the wall, our Hoyas and the six other big conference football-free Big East schools will this coming year officially divorce from the conference that made them famous, beginning play in a new conference all their own.

The Catholic Seven will keep the Big East name. They will still play their postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden, where the ghosts of games past will forever roam. But that will be a new story altogether, a new Big East that will forever live in the shadow of the bygone golden age of the conference, when the real Big East shone as the brightest star in the college basketball galaxy.

R.I.P. to the Big East, 1979-2013. You were the best, and you were certainly the only one of your kind. Too bad you went down like all the others.

 

Peter Barston is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. RAISING THE BAR appears every Friday.

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