People don’t find it hard to disagree with John Thompson Jr. After all, during the 1980s, the Georgetown Hoyas became the NCAA equivalent of the New York Yankees, according to former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese.
Thompson was the mastermind behind the hatred, speaking directly and never mincing words. His brash attitude rubbed people the wrong way, as did his Hoyas’ newfound physical style.
But, as a Georgetown fan, it’s hard not to agree with Coach Thompson. Masked behind the sarcasm and ceaseless cursing is a startlingly realistic perspective on issues. He speaks what’s on his mind and, in the case of the Big East’s demise, could not be more on point.
“We got together, we cursed, and we called each other all kinds of things but there was a certain level of respect,” he said of the conference’s early days. “Then these clowns come in and use us—basketball—and if anything, got what they wanted and ran out.”
He’s right, from a basketball perspective. But from a football perspective, it’s hard to argue with schools like Syracuse and Pittsburgh bolting for the ACC. While there is a certain sense of loyalty to the conference, the dollar signs next to football cannot be outweighed.
Thompson took things further, as he always has (see: Manley Field House). “Football came into the league, utilized our popularity, and then destroyed the league,” he told Fox Sports.
The demise of the Big East is a shame. But in all honestly, I have only been alive for 22 years of the conference. It’s all I have ever known and, by the time I was born in 1990, the league was at its apex.
For people like Thompson, their opinions carry far more credence because of the leap of faith they made to join the fledgling league back in 1979.
“We all took a chance and established something we could be awfully proud of,” Thompson said. “Then a bunch of knuckleheads sat at the table, who didn’t know a fucking thing about basketball and without any concern for the fans or geographical balance, tore it apart.”
Before the Catholic 7 departed for what will now be the new, more concentrated Big East, the conference’s name became a joke for Thompson’s points. The original intent of the conference was to forge rivalries in the major television markets around the Northeast. It did just that, stretching from Boston down to Washington D.C, with New York City as the hub.
Conference realignment had the likes of San Diego State, Boise State, and Houston coming on board, all predicated on keeping the football dollars rolling in. Geographically, it made no sense. As it is, these teams spend exorbitant amounts on their travel budgets with chartered flights around the Northeast and Midwest. Add an entire slate of West Coast games and that effect becomes heightened. The extra travel time makes an even bigger farce out of the supposed student-athlete experience.
Yet in the end, that is what it’s all about—money. The NCAA, for all it preaches about the student-athlete experience, is about revenue. It’s why there is such a valid debate about whether major college stars should be paid for their services. Anyone think Otto Porter Jr. wouldn’t appreciate a cut of all the No. 22 Hoya jerseys that have been flying off the shelves?
“All of them run around and talk about educational purpose,” Thompson said. “That’s bullshit. All of us have made money; all of us have turned down money.”
That, of course, is a little too ideal from Thompson’s perspective. Money-hungry administrators will not look to the pioneering efforts of their predecessors and proceed with that in mind. Nor should they, really. If there’s more money to be had, it would be foolish not to pursue the greener path in today’s ruthless college athletics atmosphere.
It is an unstoppable monster, another point Thompson has wrong. “The only one who could have stopped that shit from happening are the public,” he said. “Those administrators would have been scared to death if the public had responded to this bullshit.”
While fan resentment may have swayed certain aspects of the decision, the Big East dropped the ball on a lucrative television contract. I have never blamed Syracuse or Pittsburgh for departing. After all, we sit in the same position right now.
Things won’t ever be the same, but that’s okay. The new Big East won’t have the same football pressures, and we still have Madison Square Garden for the conference’s tournament.
In Thompson’s words, “What else do we need?”