ESPN 30 for 30: Requiem for the Big East (2014)

Directed by Ezra Edelman

The Big East Conference was an enormous success. Then it wasn’t. It never existed. Then it did. It was all over. Then it wasn’t. The story of the Big East Conference is a bit of a strange one, full of prideful allegiances and disloyal actions. When first conceived, there were many struggling basketball schools in the Northeast part of the country. The Pac-10, the SEC, the Big 10, those were the successful conferences recruiting prime talent out of a Northeast region who had basketball schools, but no conferences and no exposure. That was until Dave Gavitt hatched the idea to bring the best schools of the region together. His enterprising idea was timed perfectly with the launch of a fledgling cable sports channel looking to make a splash, ESPN.

The connection  between the two is undeniable, as I remember countless “Big Mondays” featuring the premier teams in the conference, which also meant in the country. But the problem became football, and it was always football. Schools like Boston College and Syracuse, while great contributors in basketball, lacked any schools to compete with in football on a national stage. While the conference flirted with the inclusion of Penn State, many rebuked the idea on the premise that the conference was founded, and therefore should remain, a haven for great basketball, the Nittany Lions not featuring such a program. However, the conference later added Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech. But as the passing years wore on, the money to be made in football increased, and the conference became a shell of what it once was, bloating to a whopping 16 schools and shuffling teams in and out.

Finally in 2013, the conference called it quits when Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and original member Syracuse split for life in a new conference. It was the exodus of original member Syracuse that spelled the end of the conference. But ultimately, what happened was most of the remaining original members circled the wagons, retained the naming rights, and became the new Big East conference. Ezra Edelman’s film takes us through all of this, chronicling the history of the conference, and hitting the high points along the way. What the film fails to do, unfortunately, is do the conference any bit of justice.

Sure, high praise is lapped onto the conference and coaches in copious amounts, but not all the schools, and not all the coaches. As a graduate of a school that participated in Big East play during my time at the institution, I hardly heard mention of my school in the film, Edelman frames the story of the Big East conference in a single decade, the 1980s. In doing this, Edelman commits a grave sin upon the conference. And maybe I have an outsiders view, being an alumnus and fan of one of the “outsider” schools who joined the conference later. However, I feel great offense for what Edelman has put together as a summation of the league and its greatness.

Focusing so lovingly on Syracuse, St. John’s and Georgetown is appropriate. Ignoring so many other great teams and stories is not. We barely get a chance to appreciate that the legendary Rick Pitino coached both Providence and Louisville in the conference. But the gravest omission is mention at all of the Connecticut Huskies basketball program. Coach Jim Calhoun gets some screentime, but merely to talk about other programs, and not his 3 national titles, more than any other team in the Big East. The film acts as though all teams other than Syracuse, Georgetown and maybe a few other original members ruined the integrity and legacy of the Big East. I should never have to apologize for Cincinnati, a school with more national titles and final fours than any other original school except UConn, for joining the conference. Instead of focusing on the continued success of the conference with the addition of many other great school, the film laments that the year 1983 ever expired.

** – Poor

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