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Monday, September 23, 2013

Rebuilding Program ...

My beloved St. John's University basketball team and the BIG EAST Conference in which they compete might take a good look at the efforts of Patrick Dixon, the Johnnies' strength and conditioning coach, who is rebuilding his home in Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Long Beach, Long Island.

NBC's College Basketball Talk column called attention to the LI Newsday article which detailed Dixon's decision to go above and beyond a basic replacement of his dwelling.  Instead, Dixon dreamed a little dream that has come true in the construction of a three-story home with a real foundation to replace the single story house that might be subject to the next natural disaster.

Like many others who call wonderful Long Beach home, including a really good buddy, Eddie O, the daunting task of rebuilding was the focus of their lives beginning October 22, 2012 through October 29, 2012 when the storm approached New York City. To refresh your memory, just last fall Hurricane Sandy hit - with winds at some 175-mph and a record-low barometric pressure reading of 940 millibars (27.76 inches) a figure which placed Sandy with a punch that was more powerful than the 1938 "Long Island Express" storm, the longtime measuring stick for Atlantic-based hurricanes. The day after Sandy blew by and headed towards Canada, New Yorkers and their neighbors in New Jersey and Connecticut, were left with only two options. Clean up and rebuild or move on out.

Syracuse Jim Boeheim will be missed by BIG EAST
While not anywhere near as important and certainly nowhere close near the life-taking, life threatening ways of a Category 1 hurricane, the BIG EAST Conference, too, has been devastated and must rebuild. The news - they call it progress - left the BIG EAST in shambles. Gone are the likes of Boston College (to the ACC in 2005), UConn, Syracuse (to the ACC, much to coach Jim Boeheim's dismay), Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia - among others over the years. Left to the BIG EAST are the "Catholic 7" - a number of the original schools of 1979 (St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, an '80 member) to join with recent members Marquette (Milwaukee, Wisc) and DePaul (Chicago, Illinois) newcomers such as Creighton (Omaha, Nebraska), Butler (Indianapolis, Indiana) and Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio).

The BIG EAST, while wallowing in its glorious past success, was left with no other path than to rebuild. To their credit, the university presidents circled their wagons around the success of the "Catholic 7" basketball history and took the necessary steps to sustain themselves and protect themselves on the athletic front while maintaining pretty serious and "high" standards in academia. The result was the "LITTLE EAST" that many of us called for many years ago when the (former) BIG EAST football schools (Miami, Louisville, South Florida, Notre Dame) began to ransack the conference.

The big step for the (new) BIG EAST was hiring my colleague Val Ackerman to head up the effort as conference Commissioner. Ackerman is a proven sports maven with a resume that approaches perfection in athletic and sports marketing circles. Ackerman also tapped a seasoned Direct TV, NBA, NY Road Runners and Pac-12 Conference veteran in Ann Wells Crandall to begin the process of bailing water out of the new conference's well.

Fall sports are competing and the winter sports schedules - especially in men's basketball - are on the calendar. Ackerman, Wells-Crandall and PR-man extraordinaire, John Pacquette, are on the job. Others soon will follow and the initial finish line for the conference will have the bright spotlights of Broadway focused on Madison Square Garden this coming March 12-15, 2014.

I'm hoping they gradually build a new, three-story home rather than trying to reconstruct what was once a mighty fortress. The (new) BIG EAST needs to practice its lay-ups before it strives for a 360-reverse slam dunk. The key issue is not just the re-building of the conference, complete with the fancy, new and financially pleasing FoxSports1 TV deal, it is building a real foundation for future success. 

To build that foundation, the (new) BIG EAST schools need to rebuild basketball program upon basketball program. Of major concern are the likes of Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and DePaul, four once-proud basketball schools that have become irrelevant in the "tell me what you're going to do for me tomorrow" world of NCAA hoops. 

Georgetown and Villanova will hold down the fort amongst the old-school teams while Marquette will maintain its highly-credible program amongst the newer schools. Surely, Butler, Creighton and Xavier will provide the conference with depth and respectability with all three potential tournament teams.

My only concern is to wake up on March 15 and see the very real possibility of a Creighton vs. Butler BIG EAST final at a half-empty Madison Square Garden while the BIG EAST faithful pine for days gone by while their watching the ACC on TV.

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