Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Conference realignment is destructive and all-powerful. It is not all-conquering. The most recent frenzy of shifting league alliances, fueled by a nauseating blend of football, greedy athletic department officials and lavish broadcast rights deals, prompted all kinds of doomsday scenarios for college basketball. At one point, as the Big 12 inched closer and closer to a landscape-altering implosion, it looked as if Kansas, one of the true bluebloods of the sport, would be left without a conference to play hoops in. We actually reached the point where Kansas joining the Mountain West was a real, imminent thing. You know what happened next. The Big 12 survived, and the Jayhawks continued to win conference championships without blinking. The Border War – Missouri and Kansas’ long-standing rivalry, which dates back to a bitter slavery-motivated Civil War-era feud – was lost with Missouri’s move to the SEC, and a host of defections from the old Big East led to the creation of a new hoops-only Big East and a super-charged ACC. But in hindsight, the movement was less injurious for college hoops than most predicted early on.
The biggest casualty? Rivalries. I mentioned the Border war, but the Georgetown-Syracuse hatefest – which reached peak intensity in 1980 when John Thompson II ended the Orange’s 57-game winning streak at the old Manley Fieldhouse, Syracuse’s home before the Carrier Dome – was also cast aside by conference switches. The Hoyas and Orange had played their last game as co-members of the Big East last season – including a thrilling, emotional overtime match-up in the Big East Tournament semifinals – and unless the two schools came together and decided to rekindle the rivalry outside of league play, college basketball would lose another of its great annual hate-filled match-ups. Syracuse and Georgetown were parting ways, but was there a legitimate reason they couldn’t they toss scheduling logistics and lopsided recruiting benefits (the Orange playing in talent-rich Washington D.C. is eons more valuable than the Hoyas traveling up to the great rural countryside of Syracuse, NY) aside, and agree to some sort of home-and-home arrangement? Was there really no hope? Syracuse had already schedule out-of-conference series with former Big East rivals Syracuse and Villanova, after all. Setting something up with Georgetown seemed like the logical next move.