The Big East Is Reaping What Its Founder Sowed

Since when did Dave Gavitt become a paragon for all that is harmonious and decent and noble in college sports? Gavitt, who died a week ago today at the age of 73, was the founder and first commissioner of the Big East. And because Pitt and Syracuse have decided to seek higher ground by airlifting themselves to the ACC, there are those who now insist on viewing Gavitt's legacy as some kind of Little Flowers of St. Francis for athletic teenagers, while simultaneously lamenting the world he created.

From Dana O'Neil of ESPN.com:

Now, on the same weekend Gavitt died of congestive heart failure at the age of 73, Syracuse [a charter Big East member] has helped bury the league he so adored.

From Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News, who attended Gavitt's wake the other night in Providence, R.I.:

Wednesday was a day for this city to stop and mourn one of the true giants in amateur sports, with lines that snaked around the block at the Drabble & Sherman Funeral Home on Waterman St.

Meanwhile, the Big East, whose football side was plunged into chaos over the weekend after Pitt and Syracuse defected to the Atlantic Coast Conference, saved its dignity and preserved Gavitt's legacy as a visionary.

Oh, Gavitt was a visionary, all right. But not for the reasons Weiss, with his make-nice newspaperman's ability to regurgitate conventional wisdom, wants him to be. As Craggs wrote last year, when the Big East came pirouetting off the pole specifically to lure a school from southeast North Texas into the champagne room, the conference "was born in 1979 as a collection of lucrative television markets along the East Coast, and as a body it dispensed entirely with the pretense that a conference was about quaint things like rivalries and traditions and regional affinities."

And the man responsible for that? Dave Gavitt. Says so right there in his New York Times obituary:

Gavitt envisioned a time when major basketball colleges in the East would draw on big-city television and marketing opportunities to create a high-profile league, bringing enhanced revenue and the recruitment of star high school players.

The Big East didn't get from its seven charter members to the unwieldy 17 schools it has today for any reasons other than those that prompted Pitt and Syracuse to leave. Is it regrettable to see storied basketball rivalries like Syracuse-Georgetown tossed aside? Sure, but no more so than it was to watch the demise of Pitt-Penn State in football, which existed for nearly 100 years as one of the biggest annual games in the East, at least until the Big East voted in 1982 not to admit Penn State because its basketball team sucked. A decade later, Penn State was among the first in line for the every-school-for-itself conference shuffle when it signed on with the Big Ten. And the season it started playing as a Big Ten member, 1993, turned out to be the last year of uninterrupted Pitt-Penn State games. The schools haven't played at all since 2000 and have recently agreed to a two-game series beginning in 2016, but they've spent the better part of the last 20 years publicly bitching over who's to blame for what happened. Consensus-building, brought to you by Dave Gavitt.

Then there's what Weiss wrote in early August:

Eight years ago, the Big East endured a mid-life crisis when the ACC raided the league, taking three of the biggest football names — Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech — from the conference.

It became the defining moment in Mike Tranghese's tenure as commissioner as he personally recruited Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida to take their places.

Got that? The Big East keeps getting "raided" by the ACC, but it "personally recruited" the schools it added from Conference USA. That's how this works. Dave Gavitt knew where the money was. That was his genius. The rest of college sports soon followed in his footsteps. That was his legacy.