John Marinatto held an unusual conference call Tuesday with the hopes of dismissing the topic of the Big East conference's realignment. Marinatto, the Big East commissioner, wanted Wednesday's men's basketball media day to be about basketball, not the seismic changes the Big East has undergone because of football's influence.
But Marinatto soon found out he couldn't avoid the topic. He found himself mentioning it... in the very first sentence of his opening remarks Wednesday morning at the New York Athletic Club in midtown Manhattan.
Obviously, I'm very happy to be talking to you about basketball this morning, Marinatto said. I can't tell you how happy I am to be talking about basketball with you this morning. Conference realignment and its impact on our membership has obviously taken up my time recently.
And with that, the floodgates opened. Whether Marinatto brought it up or not likely had nothing to do with the main storyline of the Big East's media day, but it certainly established a theme for the morning and early afternoon.
With coaches from 15 teams -- St. John's Steve Lavin was notably absent while he recovers from prostate cancer surgery -- and 34 players from those teams gathered in one place, the New York Athletic Club became a forum for open discussion about conference realignment and its effect on Big East basketball this season and beyond.
On this day, the Big East coaches picked Syracuse to finish tied for first in the league with reigning national champion Connecticut at season's end. But in a couple years, Syracuse's status with the Big East will be defunct. Along with Pittsburgh, the Orange defected to the ACC from the Big East last month and now is in the midst of a 27-month waiting period to exit the league.
The Big East also lost Texas Christian to the Big 12 a little more than a week ago. TCU was scheduled to begin play in the Big East next year in both basketball and football.
Everybody's world in the past two months has been turned upside down, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said.
Almost every coach had something to say about the Big East realignment. Every coach, that is, except Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. A month ago, he went on what was, in essence, a national media tour denouncing the conference realignment that has altered the structure of college athletics in the past two years.
If conference commissioners were the founding fathers of this country, we would have Guatemala, Uruguay and Argentina in the United States, Boeheim said Sept. 19 of conference realignment, speaking at the Monday Morning Quarterback Club in Birmingham, Ala.
On Wednesday, though? Sitting among two of his players, senior guard Scoop Jardine and senior forward Kris Joseph, Boeheim brushed off almost every single question dealing with conference realignment.
Other coaches weren't as shy. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino even brought out the analogy of a long-term relationship.
My problem is not them leaving, Pitino said. My problem is you did it in 48 hours. Don't run away with a girl after one date when you've been dating someone else for three or four years.
You've been dating this woman for 30 years. Show a little respect.
Pitino also targeted the conference itself. He even went so far as to say that the ACC's lure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh was about basketball, not football.
This was a basketball move, taking Pittsburgh and Syracuse. It was not a football move, Pitino said of the ACC. They wanted to get back to what we remember, 15 to 20 years ago, growing up a college basketball fan, the ACC was dominant. They don't like the fact that the Big East has been the premier basketball conference.
Most coaches professed their confidence in the Big East to remain one of the top basketball conferences in the country. But many also admitted the instability leads them to wonder what the next day could bring for the conference shuffle.
Perhaps the best evidence of that was from Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, who suggested Syracuse and Pittsburgh could still remain in the Big East.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh can still come back, Brey said. Come on back. You can have a do-over. Come on back.