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"30 for 30" on rise and fall of Big East is instant classic

By Alan Pergament

"What if I told you" that I forgot that Creighton and Xavier are in the Big East now until I saw "Today" host Matt Lauer having fun with their fans Thursday as the conference tournament was about to get underway in Madison Square Garden?

"What if I told you" I didn't realize that the Big East Tournament was now being televised by Fox Sports 1 instead of ESPN until I ran into analyst Bill Rafterry calling a game by accident Thursday night during breaks in the University at Buffalo upset loss in the Mid-American Conference tournament?

"What if I told you" that I had a special interest in watching Sunday's "30 for 30" program, "Requiem for the Big East" because I was covering college basketball when the conference was being started?

If you're a regular viewer of the tremendous "30 for 30" series, you undoubtedly know that I'm playing with the "what if I told you" promos for each episode.

Narrated by actor Giancarlo Esposito of "Breaking Bad" fame, "Requiem"' is another "30 for 30" winner, an instant classic that works on multiple levels -- as nostalgia, as college basketball history, as televised sports history and as an example of how greed has changed college athletics. It airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPN after the NCAA tournament bids are announced.

"Requiem" focuses on The Good, the Bad and the Ugly sides of the Big East, a superconference that was formed at the direction of brilliant former Providence College Coach and Athletic Director Dave Gavitt and unrivaled to a degree decades later after his death.

I covered college basketball in the late 1970s and early 1980s at the time of the Big East formation and remember covering a title game in Syracuse before the tournament winner didn't even receive an automatic NCAA bid.

There is only one disappointing thing about this documentary to me -- its failure to examine the politics of how the original members were picked and some other schools were left out in the cold.

If memory serves me -- and this was about 35 years ago -- St. Bonaventure was in the mix for a conference spot but didn't get one. At the time, it was in a heated basketball rivarly with my alma mater, Syracuse University, and there was speculation that SU didn't want Bona in the conference.

There also was speculation that Bona didn't want to play any conference games in Buffalo, which could have been one of the Big East's demands for entry because of its TV market. I was hoping "Requiem" would have shed some light on that situation because joining the Big East certainly would have changed Bona's hoop history. But "Requiem" didn't go there.

It is just about the only thing missing from the documentary, which airs thoroughly enjoyable footage of such Big East greats as Georgetown's Patrick Ewing, Syracuse's Pearl Washington, St. John's Chris Mullin, Villanova's Ed Pinckney and several others.

It also focuses on several of the entertaining conference coaches who became legendary figures as the conference dominated college basketball, including one season in which it earned three of the Final Four spots.

I'm not surprised that Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim is one of the more entertaining coaches in the program since years ago a CBS publicist told me that he is considered one of the funniest coaches in the country by people who know him and aren't fooled by his whiny reputation.

As the conference grew, I used to enjoy hearing all the criticism of how many NCAA tournament bids the Big East received and closely followed how the conference did overall in the tournament.

I'll miss doing that this season because quite frankly I find it ridiculous that Creighton, which I think is in Nebraska, is now in the Big East and Connecticut is no longer in the conference. (OK, I know Creighton is in Nebraska).

The truth is the NCAA tournament field announced Sunday will help everyone who hasn't been paying attention figure out which teams are in which conference.

The documentary does a very good job of explaining how the riches of college football caused Gavitt's conference to lose such powerful members as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami over the years.

Syracuse's bolting to the Atlantic Coast Conference hit the Big East like an Ewing elbow. I certainly understand the hostility directed toward my alma mater.

Some fans might not totally understand why its football program -- which since I graduated has had only a few moments in the national limelight in the Donovan McNabb years -- drove the basketball program into the arms of the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world.

After all, the basketball team routinely packs in 30,000 people into the Carrier Dome for three or four times as many games annually as the football team. And the football team often only gets crowds in the 30,000-40,000 range.

However, it isn't about seats in the fannies. It's about TV revenue and the documentary shows that football TV money far exceeds basketball TV money.

I was originally bummed that Syracuse left the Big East, partly because I occasionally went down to New York City to watch the Big East Tournament.

But like Boeheim, I have adjusted. After fulfilling one of the top things on my bucket list -- going to the Syracuse game at Duke last month -- and seeing an instant rivalry develop when Boeheim went ballistic over a questionable call, I am all in on the ACC move.

And if you had told me that before this season, I would have laughed as loudly as Bill Raftery.






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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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