Despite how it has felt for the past few months, Big East basketball is still breathing. Just look at its web site today for proof.
Sure, Syracuse and Pittsburgh and Louisville and Notre Dame* and those schools that left a decade ago, along the other schools that left without actually ever joining the conference, are gone, but damn it all the Big East says its moving forward, so it must be.
There's no need for eulogies.
This old favorite of ours now includes Creighton and Butler, but it doesn't include football. The Big East will keep Madison Square Garden for its conference tournament, it just won't keep New York City's attention. But the Big East remains, in one bastardized form or another.
Still, what may take the most time to get used to will be how we all watch this new/old conference. Gone is ESPN, in is Fox Sports 1. Which means no more Big Monday...
Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, and the one and only...
Bill Raftery, no longer teamed together! Think of all the Raft one-liners, Onions!, With The Kiss, Mantoman! And of course:
all classics, all complimented by McDonough and Bilas for the last few years. But seriously, just about anyone else would be crushed for bringing that many pre-cut catchphrases to the broadcast table, but not Bill Raftery. Actually, onions! has kind of crossed over, becoming apart of the vernacular of pick-up games at playgrounds and rec-leagues at the Y.
And while Raftery could carry just about any broadcast by himself, he never shined as brightly than when paired with his Big Monday running mates, McDonough and Bilas. The three helping carry on a fabled college hoops tradition. Actually for just about the majority of its Monday night run, the Big East didn't exactly require too much effort in terms of production value. Get an arena, get the teams there, throw the ball up, and watch what happens next. Pretty easy formula.
To most fans, nothing symbolizes the reach of the Big East more so than Big Monday -- appointment viewing for all hoops fans from coast to coast. Relative unknown programs becoming national commodities. Programs like Syracuse went from recruiting mostly the eastern seaboard to earning commitments from California kids. Not to mention the rise of Big Monday coincided with the rise of ESPN. The fairly new network gaining important credibility by airing Big East battles.
Yet, once McDonough, Bilas, and Raftery came on board, Big Monday because more than just basketball. It was like watching hoops with three of your closest friends. Actually, it was like watching with your older and wiser brother (McDonough), your smart-ass buddy (Bilas), and your totally hilarious always borderline crude, likely has a drinking problem uncle (Raft). All three always knowing their role; all three always playing it perfectly. It's not that they became bigger than the games, but you knew, even if the on-court action turned lame, the broadcast would always keep you connected.
It was Big Monday with comedy -- with any number of double entendres, and levity -- every Bilas rant always seemed on point, and objectivity (most times) -- officials were usually fair game for all three.
Now, I'm on record as saying three-man booths don't work. Without fail someone gets left out or some valid observation or talking point gets shoved aside. Calling the game while spinning conversations three-ways is about damn near impossible. But when it comes to the Big Monday crew, I'd actually want to hear them call more games together. Hell, I don't even care if those games were basketball -- that's how enjoyable they were together.
So when it was announced Bill Raftery was leaving ESPN, leaving Big Monday, to follow the new Big East to Fox Sports 1, it hit me.
A perfect gut-punch. It means the official breakup of my favorite announce team. It means Raftery calling games on Fox Sports 1, even if he's calling "Big East" games, a major thread in the fabric fraying ESPN's Big Monday forever. I understand why Raft would want to follow the Big East to its new home -- a conference he has had a hand in from its embryo stage. I also understand the potential gold mine Fox has in pairing Raftery with Gus "OHHHHHHHHH!!!!" Johnson. Major change.
I get it; I hate it.
Plus, given the sad state of Big East affairs over the last...well, ten years, the fact that Bill Raftery will stick with the Big East and at the same time break up the Big Monday crew is very apropos. One of the voices of the Big East is moving on with some of the Big East, but leaving so much behind. Leaving Big Monday behind. We've known the conference was on its last legs for months if not years, but now, it starts to sink in.
It's death of Big Monday as we knew it.
And why would Raftery stick around ESPN without the Big East? I mean, personally, I would love to see ESPN slide the the ACC into that coveted 7 p.m. Monday time slot -- Duke v. Syracuse at the Dome on Monday night anyone? Throw in McDonough, Bilas, and Raftery? Hell, if you squinted hard enough, you may think you were watching some Big East history being made, again. But that's not to be. The ACC, no matter how many Big East defectors it takes in, will never be the conference that took center stage on Monday nights, and Raftery knows that, we all know.
Maybe ESPN and ACC will work something out, but we'll never have the Big Three back again on the same network, calling real honest-to-goodness Big East games. From today forward, Mondays won't have that feel of Saturday night Fights and Must See Thursdays rolled into one two-hour basketball game.
And yet this all just fits: we'll never see Big Monday the same way because we'll never see the Big East the same way. Today everything changes, no matter how hard everyone tries to make us think otherwise.