ESPN's 30 For 30 documentary Requiem For The Big East begins with the lead-up to the 2013 Big East Tournament match-up between the Syracuse Orange and Georgetown Hoyas. It's the final time these two schools will play as conference foes, ending a rivalry that has been going strong for over thirty years.
The documentary ends with the post-game clean-up and taking down of the court at Madison Square Garden. If by some weird reason you forgot how that game ended, I won't spoil it here. But in between the beginning and the end of that game, the story of how the Big East came up from nothing, set the tone for how college conferences made money with television revenue and then watched as the monster it helped create led to its own demise plays out.
When it's over, you'll realize that, at least in the eyes of director Ezra Edelman, the story of the Big East is the story of Syracuse and Georgetown. And vice versa.
As someone who didn't really come of age as a sports fan until the late 80's, it was a fascinating history lesson on exactly how a bunch of mostly-small, Northeastern schools banded together to compete for prominence with the mighty Pac-10, Big Ten, ACC and SEC. And how, within four years of forming, they absolutely dominated the college basketball landscape.
The doc isn't without drawbacks. It focuses mostly on the early years, 1979 to 1985, and passes entirely over the 90's and early 00's. No love for Calhoun's UConn or latter-day Louisville. No love for Miami football. No love for football, period (understandably). No love for anything, really, outside of the schools that were there in the very beginning.
The good news for Syracuse fans is that it means there a LOT of focus on SU. Jim Boeheim and John Thompson probably get more screen-time than anyone else. There are multiple vignettes dedicated to Syracuse vs. Georgetown, as well a focus on the importance of Pearl Washington, whom I don't think I ever really appreciated as much as the film shows me I should have.
When I said there's a lot of Boeheim, I meant it. Naturally, he's fantastic. He provides great counterpoints to Thompson as well explaining why SU eventually left the conference. He's honest and real and all the things you love about him. And footage of his epic press conference meltdown after the 1984 Big East Tournament Championship Game is the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life.
My biggest fear with the documentary was how Syracuse would be portrayed when it left the Big East for the ACC and, well, I do think my fears were warranted. I may be biased, okay, I know I'm biased, but the documentary and its participants didn't really seem to grasp the totality of why Syracuse left when it did. There's a lot of bitterness, a lot of money-talk and a lot of pointed statements. But very few people inside the conference seem willing to admit that the Big East was responsible for its own demise.
Then again, maybe that's the point.
It's not the completest Big East Conference documentary you might be hoping for. Most schools are probably going to be disappointed by their lack of screen-time. If you told me that Edelman really just wanted to make a documentary about Georgetown Basketball or about the SU-G'town rivalry, I'd believe you. In fact, I'd go watch either of those right now.
Still, in terms of capturing what made the Big East so amazing in that first decade and the myriad poor decisions that led to its downfall in its last, it does the job commendably.