Lou Carnesecca: Big East can be strong

Lou Carnesecca was an accidental founding father: He never wanted St. John's to join the Big East Conference in the first place.

"We were playing all those teams already," the retired Hall of Fame coach said Monday, "and to play them twice on Sunday wasn't something I was looking forward to. But I was wrong."

Dead wrong. Now with the Big East on the apparent brink of coming undone, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh fleeing to the Atlantic Coast Conference and with other heavyweight members reportedly weighing a move for the door, Carnesecca is hoping he isn't as wrong today as he was in 1979.

"It's a shock," said the 86-year-old Carnesecca, "but the Roman Empire fell, too. I really hate to see it happen because the Big East is a great league, it was a great league, but I believe it will work out in the end.

"It's not like football; there are an awful lot of good basketball teams out there. We still have some good basketball teams in the Big East, and if we add some teams, people will still want to come and watch them play."

Dave Gavitt, who died Friday at 73, sold a skeptical Carnesecca on the concept of a Big East and the necessity of a New York City-based team when the two were working a clinic in Italy.

"That league really pushed us into another atmosphere, another strata," Carnesecca said, "and we developed tremendous rivalries with Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, and others. I'm nostalgic about it now, but it's like when your kids get married and move out.

"It goes along with the times, and how nothing stays the same. Syracuse was one of the founding teams with us, and they will be missed. It's a big blow, but St. John's has had a great tradition for a long time and I think we will be part of a good league with some other good schools. It will take some time for new rivalries to develop, but it will happen."

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.