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Big East losing its charm, romance

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published January 11. 2013 4:00AM

Providence

Nobody else has captured the collective sadness of the Big East's dissolution better. Nobody ever will. This was Jim Boeheim, postgame, Wednesday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center:

"I've been coming here for 34 years," Boeheim said, after Syracuse escaped Providence with a six-point win. "That's a lot of history. I've coached here against Rick Barnes, Rick Pitino. The fans are great here. Every one of these games, there's a little bit of sadness for me.

"I know where all the good restaurants are here now. Now I have to go to Clemson, South Carolina. I'm sure there are a couple of good Denny's down there," Boeheim said, amid chuckles from the gallery. "They'll like me a lot now at Clemson. I'll miss (Federal Hill eateries) Siena, Capriccio. When you go on these trips you've got to have at least one moment of enjoyment. Go have something good for an hour. These games tend to wear on you. I'll miss coming to places like this. Time moves on."

And that's always been part of the Big East's romance. It's not just the great games. It's the charm of the cities. Providence. Philly. Washington. We'll all miss our haunts.

For many of you, it's the big, bad city for a few days in March, the party known as the Big East Tournament. I'll miss visiting Grimaldi's (Syracuse), Filomena (Georgetown), the South Philly Tap Room (Villanova) and Field Goal Jesus (Notre Dame). I'll miss the late nights in Manhattan, grabbing pizza so late that even members of the oldest profession are calling it a morning by then.

I promised myself not to lament. But it's hard. Just listen to Boeheim. He didn't make the Hall of Fame by being wistful. But even his grudging acceptance of time's inevitable march and expansion's inevitable carnage doesn't eliminate all the melancholy.

"It's all about football, it's always going to be about football," he said. "I think the schools left are smart forming a basketball school league. I think they'll have good league with good teams and good markets. As I've said many times, my whole basketball life has been in the Big East. It's a very sad time."

Indeed. But this is where administrators from all schools with ties to the Big East should assume a certain responsibility and consider each other first for future nonconference games. Now I get that coaches don't want to schedule themselves to the unemployment line. I get that college sports are in such flux that future scheduling will require patience and foresight.

But for as many hits as the fans get, could we get a bounce once or twice?

Like maybe for our purposes, UConn keeping a few old rivals?

Sure beats watching the Huskies play Maryland Eastern Shore before 6,000 friends and relatives.

I say this having experienced the Providence-Boston College game from earlier this season at Conte Forum. It did my heart good to feel some energy in a building that's deader than Hoffa outside of the days Carolina and Duke visit.

And yet even with the Eagles struggling at the time, more butts were in more seats. That's what happens when two teams 45 minutes apart meet for the 107th time. Think about that. They've played 107 times, all the way back to 1942. It was a three-point game. BC beat PC in front of dueling fan bases. A fun day. Why we love college basketball. And, by the way, BC has played significantly better since.

Coincidence?

We'll need some days like that in Storrs. I worry about UConn's place. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and BC have the ACC. West Virginia has the Big XII. Rutgers has the Big Ten. The remaining schools have their own league. At least some rivalries, memories and places for Boeheim's "one hour of enjoyment" still exist for some of those schools.

Still, UConn has the opportunity to maintain scheduling alliances with some of its previous brethren. It won't be every school, every year. But can't we find our way, say, to visit Providence, Boston and Syracuse every year? Maybe to Philly on occasion? South Bend, too?

All I'm asking is for administrators, schedule-makers and TV executives to think of us when it's scheduling time. We've grown up on the rivalries, cities and memories of the Big East. Give us a chance to relive the moments. Time marches on, as Jim Boeheim said. Just give us something to savor.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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