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big east tournament

NCAA Madness Is Gonna Ruin a Great MSG Event

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12:  A general view of the Connecticut Huskies and the Louisville Cardinals game for the championship of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

The Big East men's basketball tournament might be our favorite multiday sports event in this city. It means something to have the Garden packed with all those different teams' fans, with games that go on all day and past midnight, and great rivalries settling themselves at the basketball mecca. Two-and-a-half years ago, Syracuse and Connecticut played a game in the Big East tournament that required six overtimes to finish. Last March, Connecticut got so hot at the Big East tournament that they just stopped losing altogether. It is part of the fabric of New York sports culture. And thanks to a sport that has always been at the bottom of the city's priority list, this coming March will be the last one to ever matter.

It has just been a few days since Syracuse and Pittsburgh rocked the college sports world by announcing they would join the ACC, but it has changed so much that it feels like months ago. Now Villanova is pretending it has a chance at the ACC, Texas and Oklahoma are mulling their next moves, Rutgers could go, too, and the entire NCAA world is in chaos. It's all because of college football, which has been a low-ish priority for the Big East since its inception. People who love college basketball more than college football — like us — have been forced to watch their beloved sports ransacked. Texas started this with their Longhorn Network. Now everything is madness.

College basketball fans hate it and are powerless to stop it. That includes, by the way, Syracuse's legendary coach.

"We're going to end up with mega-conferences and 10 years from now either I'm going to be dead wrong — and I'll be the first to admit it — or everybody is going to be like, why did we do this again?" Jim Boeheim said at a speaking engagement in Alabama, according to the Birmingham News. "Why is Alabama playing Texas A&M this week and going to Texas Tech next weekend? And why is Syracuse going to Miami in basketball this week and next week they're going to play Florida State?"

And mostly: Boeheim is sad about that great Big East tournament.

"It's a great place for a tournament," Boeheim said of New York. "Where would you want to go to to a tournament for five days? Let's see: Greensboro, North Carolina, or New York City? Jeez. Let me think about that one and get back to you."

The new home of the Orange, the ACC, is already boasting that it'll take over the Garden, with commissioner John Swofford saying Sunday that he'd love to have the ACC tournament there. (Because nothing gets the Garden rocking like Clemson.)

There is still much to be sorted out, including what's gonna happen with St. John's, as well as Georgetown and other "non-football" schools. (It's possible what's left of the Big East and the Big 12 will merge.) But with Syracuse and Pitt already gone, and Rutgers, Connecticut, and West Virginia perhaps next ... this March's Big East Tournament will be the last one, at least the way we always remember it. There's something terrible and thoughtless about that. Boeheim's right. In ten years, everyone's gonna be watching Texas Tech play South Florida in the semifinals of the "Big East tournament," and wonder how this got all screwed up. We're just gonna try to enjoy this season, the way it's supposed to be, while we can.

Photo: Mike Lawrie/2011 Getty Images