Nothing against Louisville and Cincinnati, which were due to play in the finals of the Big East Conference on Saturday -- but this is not the same conference and it’s not the same event that emerged from the damp and cold in the early ‘80’s.
This is the first time that at least one original member of the Big East was not in the final. Not that the final game means much – both teams are always going to the N.C.A.A. tournament anyway.
But continuity should count for something. Not that the Big East could continue to be Patrick Ewing against Chris Mullin. Players move on. But a conference needs some critical mass of charter schools to retain its identity. Now it’s over. The need for big-time football members killed a great regional basketball conference.
For sure, nothing against Louisville and Cincinnati. Once upon a time they were the locus of my family life. We lived in Louisville in the early ‘70’s and drove up to Cincinnati for deli from Izzy Kadetz (I’m old enough to remember the real Izzy, scowling from behind the counter) and major-league baseball – and then it was back across the Ohio, and the sweet rolling countryside of northern Kentucky to the pleasant life of our temporary home in Louisville. I remember the excitement when Louisville played Cincinnati in some all-over-the-place conference whose name I forget. But I mean no offense when I say, these two finalists do not fit the heritage of the Big East.
That was a conference based on head colds – people in grungy raincoats with the liners still inside, emerging from the drifts of New England, the lake-effect snows of upstate New York, the Amtrak-Turnpike jumble of the Middle Atlantic states.
If you had the sniffles, you belonged in the Big East. What a wonderful concept.
But Boston College split, and the Big East violated its roots and admitted Miami and Virginia Tech, and they vanished for the allure of King Football.
Pitt and Syracuse and West Virginia are now here in body but not in soul. Temple is joining? Makes sense, but too late. You shoulda been here a decade ago.
Houston and Memphis pop up on a basketball schedule two years from now. I could have sworn I saw T.C.U. mentioned in connection with the Big East. T.C.U?
The members hop around like mock characters on the games on my grandchildren’s electronic devices.
Might as well call it something else.
The Virtual Conference.
The Big East was fun while it lasted.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.