NCAA BK

Thompson Jr. angry with Big East

Former head coach John Thompson Jr. cheers
Formers Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr. says football 'destroyed' the Big East.
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A.J. Perez

A.J. Perez previously worked at USA Today, AOL and CBSSports.com, covering beats ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to the NHL. He has also been a finalist for an Associated Press Sports Editors award for investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

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WASHINGTON

As divorces go, the Georgetown-Syracuse split was fairly uneventful.

The final Big East regular-season meeting between to the two founding members of the conference wasn’t contested, at least after halftime as No. 5 Georgetown eased to a 61-39 victory on Saturday. The only drama came as security guards tried — mostly in vane — to prevent a portion of the largest crowd to see a Georgetown home game (20,972) from storming the court after the Hoyas secured their first regular-season conference title since 2008.

Not that finality of what transpired here lacked acrimony.

“You hate to see it happen,” former Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr. told FOXSports.com as he watched his son’s team cut down the nets at Verizon Center. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that it had to happen. We were tied together at the hip. We took a chance, just as they did. What they did was let football pimp us.”

Thompson and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim were among the driving forces in the creation of the Big East, which was founded in 1979. Men’s basketball was the focal point of the league, at least for the first decade. In the years since, football — and the millions college football can attain through media rights deals — changed the complexion of the conference.

“Football came into the league, utilized our popularity and then destroyed the league,” Thompson said. “That makes me angry.”

The Big East eventually added Miami, West Virginia and Virginia Tech, all schools with strong football programs that have since left the conference. Conference officials tried to fill the gaping holes with teams that, well, weren’t “East” in any way like Cincinnati and Louisville.

Then No. 17 Syracuse announced that it would also defect as it begins play next season in the ACC after negotiating an exit settlement with the Big East.

“Football is going to run the ship, no matter what happens,” Boeheim said. “I understand that. It’s the way it is and it’s the way it has to be.”

The Hoyas became part of the Catholic 7, a group of schools that broke off from the Big East and will begin play in a new conference next season. It will actually still be named the Big East in an agreement announced Friday with the schools that remained in the old Big East.

As Markel Starks compiled a game-high 19 points, some of the older children of this 34-year-long rivalry — including former Hoya greats Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning — sat alongside as the Hoyas led by double digits for all but the first few moments of the second half.

“Back then in the '80s, the Big East was the premier league, bigger than the ACC, bigger than all of them,” Ewing told FOXSports.com. “It’s hard to see it dismantled. It’s hard to see schools like Syracuse, Boston College, the original teams that helped start this league lead to join the ACC all because of football.”

The new Big East is essentially returning to the roots that Boeheim spoke wistfully about in his news conference. Men’s basketball will be the marquee sport, just like when Thompson, Boeheim, former Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca combined with the late Dave Gavitt at Providence to help create the Big East more than three decade ago.

“As a coach, you never think you are going to be part of something for 30 years,” said Boeheim, whose team still holds a 48-41 edge in the rivalry. “It’s been an unbelievable experience. I was hoping to get four or five years when it started.”

This Big East rivalry can’t officially be dissolved just yet, even if John Thompson Jr. quipped, “Kiss Syracuse goodbye,” at John Thompson III’s presser. The two teams could meet at next week’s conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

“We had our fights. We had our arguments,” John Thompson Jr. said. “But we still had respect for one another. You hate to see it end the way it did and the reality is that it only ended because of greed.”

Tagged: Syracuse, Georgetown

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