Sep 21, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Well that sure happened in a hurry.
From Friday-night murmur to Saturday-morning rumor to Sunday-morning fact, Syracuse University’s move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference was considered, consumed and confirmed in what looked like record time.
This meant digesting a lot of shockwaves, plus the usual rounds of bashing by the usual critics contending that SU and Pittsburgh had set in motion the ruination of college sports, the decline of Western civilization, etc. etc.
When all the noise, sound bites and accusations quieted down, though, a couple of fundamental questions remained. Why did SU do it? And what will it mean down the road?
The first answer, in my view, isn’t that complicated. SU had to move. Either the school languishes in a Big East with a wild and uncertain future, or it goes to a place where, if nothing else, long-term viability and security would be present. Yes, money is involved in that security, but it’s not the only factor.
It’s the other answer that, obviously, won’t get fully processed until we’re years down the road. What is safe to assume, though, is that the presence of SU in a far-flung ACC whose geographic reach spreads from New England to South Beach will shake up a lot of our preconceived notions, for better and worse.
From an overall standpoint, SU’s athletics department has won in a way Charlie Sheen can never imagine. The ACC has done so well in so many sports that it cannot help but improve the type of athlete the school can recruit, because the level of competition will be stronger.
Add to it the academic part. Yes, a lot of people pooh-pooh it as if scholastic standing doesn’t mean a thing in these endeavors, and maybe it is only a small factor. But aligning with great schools like Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Wake Forest, and reuniting with Boston College, is quite nice.
Still, the bottom line cannot be ignored. SU both gains and loses plenty of points by leaving its ancestral home for more lucrative territory.
Since football drives all these decisions, we’ll start there. Doug Marrone is slowly bringing the Orange back to respectability, and the facilities are getting better, but many more steps remain. There’s a real chance SU might get roughed up in the initial ACC stages, but at least it goes there with a chance to be respectable, something you might not have said four years ago.
For lacrosse, it’s an absolute bonanza. Annual men’s games with Virginia are already classics. Adding Duke, North Carolina and Maryland only strengthens the SU standing. And they play the best women’s lacrosse in the country in the ACC, too, so that will only get better.
Of course, the biggest jolt will come in basketball. There’s no need to recall SU’s primary role in making the Big East the nation’s preeminent hoops conference. From the rivalries built up with the likes of Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova and Connecticut to the March tournament in Madison Square Garden, which supplanted all others for atmosphere and dramatics, leaving the Big East behind is tough to take.
Then again, the Big East was already diluted. After BC, Virginia Tech and Miami took off for the ACC and SU got rejected eight years ago, the conference expanded beyond reason to 16 teams, with a 17th (TCU) ready to climb on board. Everyone, Jim Boeheim included, thought it was too much.
So while those old rivalries might get cast aside, it doesn’t have to be that way. Boeheim should forget the December cupcakes and, as much as possible, include the old-line Big East rivals in games during the early part of the season. Those would provide fantastic atmospheres, at the Carrier Dome and elsewhere, while still allowing the Orange to move ahead with their ACC integration.
Naturally, there’s one monster payoff moment where belonging in the ACC will prove really, really cool. Like the first time SU wears those Orange jerseys in the DeanDome in Chapel Hill or in front of the Cameron Crazies in Durham or, better yet, when the Tar Heels and Blue Devils show up here in the Dome and 35,000 will be on hand.
In those loud and raucous moments, Syracuse will matter on the national sports scene. For a modest city like ours, that’s quite special, and it’s something that could not possibly take place had SU decided to cast its fate with the uncertain Big East.
No one would say that the constant conference shuffles are a total plus for the sports scene. Still, whether you like the change or not, you have to admire Syracuse’s desire not to get left out of the conversation for good.