It’s done. Syracuse is now conference rivals with NC State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and a host of other schools it barely has anything in common with. The Orange says good bye to all those bitter feuds built up over a century of battles with like-minded Northeastern private and middle-sized public schools with kids who have best friends on the other side of the field. And while you lament the passing of one era, it was mandatory. Eat or be eaten. And Syracuse University has cut a big ol’ hunk of the college athletic steak and is chewing nervously.
It just so happened I was in Los Angeles this weekend for SU’s game at USC with my buddy Penz – two Northeast kids who graduated SU together ten years ago. Like so many other aspiring broadcasters, we churned through the WAER sweat shop, driving a rickety old news van to Providence, Piscataway and Storrs to call football, basketball and lacrosse games for student radio. A lifetime of setting up shop in neighboring states, calling familiar games against those familiar schools that we all knew and hated. And we both had the same reaction upon hearing the news Friday night.
“Syracuse to the ACC? Kinda sucks, but I’m already getting used to it.”
That’s because the process of something as seismic as SU bailing on thirty years of conference affiliation had started nearly a decade ago. Once BC, Miami and Virginia Tech carpet-bagged their way to more money and a football conference title game, the plate tectonics had shifted. In the hyper-speed land grab realignment of the last 24 months, waving the flag for the Big East was like doing five-pound curls for 7 hours. An exercise in futility.
Nearly a century of relationships with other schools in the region was going to get trampled eventually. We all knew it. Would the football playing schools land it their own division? Would the Big East reel in the wretched losers of the Big 12 implosion? How drastically different would the landscape finally look when the dust settled and all the fat cats had gotten their money?
Bailing on the Big East is not something we should all feel great about. For the last six years we’ve lambasted the Eagles, Hokies and Hurricanes for chasing cash. “How do ya like that ACC now?” we sneered when BC played in front of lethargic crowds for “rivalry” games against the likes of Maryland and Wake Forest. We dismissed it as failed experiment as we happily paraded to the World’s Most Famous Arena for a week of glorious basketball in March and Boston College trekked to Greensboro (where the hell is Greensboro?) for lifeless, meaningless games somewhere in Dixie.
But now we are them, no different than those original greedy bastards who chose money over history and geography. And ya know what? I’m fine with that. Because it was untenable. We were all whistling past the graveyard since ’05. Especially lately. Yeah, we still had the epic affairs against Georgetown and Villanova. We had new gridiron blood battles with UConn and Rutgers. But we also all cheered when TCU walked through that door – those Horned Frogs from Fort Worth were going to save our football conference. Which in retrospect just sounds pathetic. When you’re waiting on a private school from the Mountain West 2,000 miles away to save anything, you’re in some mighty trouble.
Syracuse and Pitt join three other schools from the old Big East to bring the band back together in some ways. If the ACC reaches out to UConn or West Virginia or Rutgers, it might not even feel all that different on Saturdays in the fall or cold winter nights inside the gyms of the Northeast. And who are we to judge, really? USF – a huge, sprawling commuter state-school soaked in 95-degree heat and a pirate ship in its end zone – was our rival? Louisville and Cincinnati and DePaul and Marquette always seemed like new actors in old sitcoms that never quite fit in with the cast anyway.
If we have to go to four 16-team super conferences and we have to prioritize football-playing schools and we need a seat at the table before the invitations are all gone… well, then I guess this is the best we could’ve hoped for. Right? Nights at Cameron Indoor will be cool. And having Florida State football come to the Dome will be exciting. And not having to nervously wait for the carcass of the Big East to get picked apart is reassuring. But it still doesn’t quite feel right.
We chased the money. But we had to.