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The Final Frontier: Syracuse-Georgetown, The Big East Ends as It Began

This whole Big East swan song can be numbing. It’s a little like finals week senior year in high school. I’ll never sit at this desk again. This is the last time I’ll be walking through this hallway. But since everything is viewed through this prism things lose significance.

So when Syracuse travels to Providence for the last time as members of the Big East, or Rutgers comes to the Dome for the final soiree, our eyes tend to glaze over. But today is different. There’s no way to overstate the impact of this game. Forget what it means in the standings. Yeah, these are two of the best teams in the league. This is a top 15 matchup on national television. It’s a notch in the belt heading to the tourney, a resume-building win for the committee. (continued below Game Cast)

But even if these two squads were staring at the NIT, it would mean something. Everything. The Big East was built on basketball, and Syracuse-Georgetown was the foundation it was set on. For all of the sh*t we give ESPN (and it deserves plenty), the network did bring the college game to prominence. When the Bristol start-up was just finding its feet in the early ’80s, campus hoops was its most important commodity. And two annual showdowns between larger-than-life coaches, New York versus D.C., the pulsating masses in the Carrier Dome, made for great theater. ESPN put it on a national stage, and it took off.

The serendipity of the Big East’s birth and death is interesting. The conference was conceived with television in mind, like-minded schools in large Northeastern markets (New York, Syracuse, Hartford, D.C., Boston, Providence, Philadelphia) playing terrific basketball in hostile arenas. That product launched an empire, a made-for-TV spectacle that exploded in the first decade, then crested over the next two.

Now, the Big East is no more because of television. Football is the driving force, and if you don’t play it, you’re left out of the party. So if Georgetown doesn’t field a team on the gridiron while Syracuse does, they can’t be at the same table. It was always a tenuous hold, basketball-only schools trying to make ends meet with a league of football-playing members. Two different sets of priorities, two diametrically opposed viewpoints. And eventually it was too difficult to make work any longer.

No one wants to see this go, the rivalries are too good, the emotional bonds are too strong. But ultimately, the Big East ends as it began. Like disassembling a Hollywood set, it was built for the show, then torn down when the show was over.

This does nothing, though, to diminish today. John Thompson’s Hoya Paranoia of the ’80s, with the star of all stars, Patrick Ewing, were the bad boys from the city. He screamed, and carried on, and swaggered, and created a rep that was insidious and renegade. Georgetown went to the Final Four in 1982, ’84 and ’85, launching a national brand. At the same time, Jim Boeheim pushed Syracuse to new heights, winning 20 games a year and making the Orange a permanent fixture in the top 25. The nation was captivated by the sight of 20,000 delirious fans wearing Orange filling a bubble in Central New York. And when the two met, either in D.C or at the Dome, it was always epic.

1980: John Thompson “officially closes” Manley Field House.

1982: SU fans throw Oranges at the backboard and Ewing.

1985: Pearl Washington throws a punch at Ewing in the Big East Tournament, after knocking off the #1 Hoyas in the regular season with buzzer beater.

1990: Syracuse wins in OT thriller, Thompson is tossed after three technicals.

This is it. The final time Georgetown comes to the Carrier Dome as a Big East foe. National TV. A record crowd awaits.

Today is different.

Posted: D.A.

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