College hoops greatest conference tournament has, sadly, been destroyed by realignment. SB Nation New York's Jared Smith tackles the future of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
There was a day in age when sports fans, specifically those that love college basketball, could not think of the Big East Conference without Madison Square Garden, the host of the greatest conference tournament in the world - and that's not just an arrogant New York opinion it's just a fact.
However, because of the latest rounds of conference realignment: which gave the Atlantic Coast Conference the Louisville Cardinals, the Big Ten Conference the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Big East the Tulane Green Wave (East Carolina is joining in football only); "The World's Most Famous Arena", located at 4 Penn Plaza, is going to lose its historic March luster.
Starting in 2014, MSG will play host to Tulane, Houston Cougars, Memphis Tigers, SMU Mustangs, Central Florida Knights and Temple Owls; AND NOT the Syracuse Orange, Pittsburgh Panthers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Louisville Cardinals basketball programs.
Currently stuck playing against the land of misfit toys will be long-time Big East favorites the St. John's Red Storm, Seton Hall Pirates, Georgetown Hoyas, Connecticut Huskies, Villanova Wildcats and Providence Friars. Oh, and the Cincinnati Bearcats and Marquette Golden Eagles, which both have done a stellar job of keeping with the Big East basketball tradition.
This possible 16-team tournament (because it's doubtful that conference realignment is finished) will showcase teams located in 13 different states: Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and Virginia (Washington D.C.).
For those curious: In March, the Big East Tournament will host 14 teams from 11 states as UConn is ineligible to play this year. Though, if they were able to play, eight of 15 teams would be located in PA, NY, NJ, CT or RI. That number drops to five in two years.
With the huge geographically switch, along with replacing high-quality hoops programs with below average or mediocre ones, which regresses the league into a mid-major conference, this question needs to be asked: How will it impact the Big East Tournament's national reputation, fan attendance and local appeal?
"That's a really tough question," replied Norman Rose, the creator of SB Nation's St. John's blog Rumble In The Garden, via e-mail on Wednesday. "Part of the appeal of the conference tournament was the draw of schools like Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, et cetera - schools with many alumni in the New York City area, along with many people who went just for the show - and high-level, high-energy college basketball in an NBA arena.
"This change is different than losing Boston College and Virginia Tech - Syracuse draws in a lot of people to the Garden, for example."
For one week in March, college hoops takes over arguably the greatest sports market in the nation. Passionate college hoops fans flood bars, restaurants and, for the most part, watch every session at Madison Square Garden - its a long day, fans are allowed to take breaks.
By Friday and Saturday night, when the semifinals and finals are played, its a guarantee the 18,000-seat arena will be packed. If a fan decides to buy a last-minute ticket they will need to be prepared to pay at least $200 on StubHub for nose-bleeds.
In other words: the Big East Tournament is kind of a big deal.
Despite its recent regression and ultimately seeming demise there's still a strong (and current) passion for Big East men's basketball, and its expected this season will be special as there will be a lot of "this will be the last time..." and "appreciate it while its here..." moments.
For the next few months, however, there also will be a lot retrospective thinking: How in the hell did we get here? What went wrong? Why weren't we able to save this special event?
Madison Square Garden, which in October signed a 10-year contract extension with the Big East through 2025-26, and its basketball supporters do deserve better than a first-round match up between Tulane and SMU; or a possible championship game between Memphis and Temple.
Luckily, if there's one thing we've learned from conference realignment its that contracts between two entities mean nothing.
And though it may not come next season or five years from now, but if television, specifically ESPN, and wallets demand Syracuse, North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame and Boston College (possibly UConn, Cincinnati and Georgetown too) in the Garden.
It will come. You can guarantee it.
More on the Big East realignment...
VU Hoops (Villanova) - Big East reacts, moving Villanova closer to irrelevance in athletics
Casual Hoya (Georgetown) - This bubble will burst: How greed will bring down modern amateur athletics
Card Chronicle (Louisville) - The ACC votes to add Louisville