As Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino sat with reporters at Big East media day in October, a man never at a loss for words spared more than a few to point out that his conference was going to be just fine.
Though the 35 NCAA Tournament appearances, 20 Sweet 16 berths and 15 conference championships owned by Syracuse are headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitino said Memphis and Temple will replace the Orange nicely.
Who knows if Pitino really believes that or it's the salesman in him trying to save face for his league. Whatever it was, it didn't sit well with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
"Rick's full of s if that's what he really said," Boeheim told reporters later in the day. "If he was in the Big 12 right now like he wanted to be, he'd being saying the Big 12 is the best. That's the bottom line."
The lesson in this mess is that the beauty of realignment in college athletics is in the eye of the beholder. Every coach will say his school and conference is in a good spot. But are they really? Anyone who believes the Big East is a better basketball conference without West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse is kidding himself. Memphis and Temple are great additions; they just aren't the caliber of the three programs leaving.
As the 2012-13 season nears Marquette opens its schedule Nov. 9 against Ohio State on the USS Yorktown --- Conference realignment is hitting Big East basketball hard. To recap the shuffling, West Virginia is already gone, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will leave in 2013, and Notre Dame will be gone in 2014.
Along with Memphis and Temple, Houston, Southern Methodist and Central Florida will join as full-fledged members in 2013.
"There's going to be a rebranding," Villanova coach Jay Wright said at media day. "If you think about it, we're losing two great, traditional basketball schools in West Virginia and Syracuse. Pitt has been very good recently.
"But you are adding Memphis and Temple. When you talk about tradition and history, they are right up there. And then you add some other schools, like Houston, that when they become a part of northeast basketball, they are going to blow up."
Marquette coach Buzz Williams doesn't believe Syracuse has to be replaced by one school right away.
"I don't know if anybody necessarily just completely replaces them," Williams said at media day. "As time plays itself out, there will probably be more of a shift as to who those next team or group of teams will be. I can't predict that. I think that's hard to do."Wright believes in the idea that being in the Big East will help the incoming programs grow. "This is something I think we are going to see," Wright said. "All of us, coaches included, have benefited from being in the northeast media and being part of basketball in the northeast, we've all benefited. Everybody that has come into this league has benefitted in basketball and everybody that comes in will benefit."Georgetown coach John Thompson III said change is inevitable and that when the founders of the conference sat down 34 years ago, they knew that crossroads like this would come sooner or later. Then it would be time to reload and move on. Thompson thinks the conference will take a hit with Syracuse leaving, but the rest of the losses aren't a big deal to him."Everyone else leaving in regards to the team's coming in, it's just different," Thompson III said at media day. " I don't think it will be better or worse. It will just be different."So what does this all mean for Marquette?When the Golden Eagles joined the Big East in 2005, its basketball conference was at its strongest. Marquette benefited, and its program took off. Now the school is in a tough spot, simply because it doesn't play football.
"I think a lot of those decisions are football-derived, and I understand that," Williams said at media day. "But I hope that there is some stability relative to things have calmed down, not just in our league but throughout all of the leagues. I think that's probably what's best for college athletics."What Williams means is he hopes the Big East doesn't lose any more teams. Right now Marquette is still in a good place. With Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown and Louisville at the top of the conference and tradition-rich schools like Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall around as well, the Big East is going to be just fine. Williams' biggest fear is watching the Big 12 snatch Louisville. Or the ACC grabbing Connecticut. That's why he hopes things have settled down.For its part, Marquette is stuck. With no football program, it isn't going to the Big Ten. But that shouldn't matter. For now, the Golden Eagles are just fine. Big East basketball won't be at the level it was when Marquette first joined up, but the conference will survive nicely if it doesn't take any more hits.There is opportunity for the programs such as Marquette's that are waiting for their chance to take the next step. And who knows, maybe the Golden Eagles will become next powerhouse Big East team. We'll have to wait and see. Like Williams said, the future is just too hard to predict.Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter