1:06 pm Jun. 4, 20121
The bizarre realities that come with a collegiate conference in transition, as the Big East is, popped up again on Friday.
Briefly: Syracuse and Pittsburgh, a pair of longtime members of the Big East, announced last year that they are moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Big East had the contractual right to keep them through at least 2013, and decided to do so. Thus, Syracuse and Pttsburgh are in the Big East for now, but both are lame ducks.
So when the Big East created the schedule for the upcoming Big East-SEC Challenge, an annual set of meetings between the two conferences in college basketball, they apparently didn't consult either Syracuse or Pittsburgh about their preferences for timing and destination. The result was that Pittsburgh, left out of the pairings entirely, is upset. And Syracuse, sent to play Arkansas, was so upset that athletic director Dan Gross responded to the email from the Big East to all its schools with a schedule for the event, inadvertently hitting reply-all in the process and allowing the dispute to become public.
What's most interesting about this dispute, in which no one really has the moral high ground, is the extent to which the parties are acting against their self-interest.
Pittsburgh expressed disappointment over getting left out of the 2012 event, after playing on the road in the 2011 showcase. But publicly complaining that the conference you just shunned doesn't want to include you in an event designed to highlight the basketball talent and depth of the Big East seems silly, especially at the same time as Pittsburgh has expressed a hope that the Big East will let it move to the ACC earlier.
Syracuse's objection is even more ludicrous. The Big East is including Syracuse in the event and giving the Orange the same courtesy of inclusion that the other conference members in good standing are receiving. And the ill-advised email response makes Syracuse look ungrateful at best, incompetent at worst.
As for the Big East, letting Syracuse participate has guaranteed that at least part of the Big East-SEC Challenge will focus on what the conference was, rather than what it is or will be. Excluding Connecticut, a member in good standing, but which faces a postseason ban next season, is at least somewhat understandable. But why Louisville, another member in good standing just off of a Final Four appearance and with Rick Pitino as coach, was left out instead of Syracuse is unfathomable.
But really, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are the ones who look silliest. Their departure has thrown the Big East into turmoil they're still navigating. If there are contracts to be enforced for the two schools to get what they want, by all means, they are within their rights to do so. Otherwise, two institutions responsible for making life extremely difficult for the Big East just look foolish when they expect anything more than the letter of the league's legal obligation to them both.