Football moves irk Big East hoops coaches

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin.

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Coaches at some of the most accomplished Big East basketball schools feel as if the clock is running out and they don't have any timeouts left. Having lived daily with the frenzy over the football-oriented shuffle of teams in and out of conferences, the best the coaches can hope for is that someone slows everything down.

"People are making decisions that are nonsensical," Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma said at the Jimmy V Basketball Classic dinner auction last night at Chelsea Piers. "People are making decisions that, a year ago or six months ago, would have made you say, 'That's outrageous.' But now that's commonplace."

Auriemma and coaches of Big East men's teams know the decision by Syracuse and Pittsburgh to leave the conference could lead to a bigger exodus, jeopardizing what they assert is the greatest college basketball league in the country.

"I don't know that you can be anything but aware," the most successful women's basketball coach in NCAA history said. Auriemma mused about the days when college presidents would step in to override what they thought were rash decisions by athletic directors and coaches. "Now the coaches and ADs are saying, 'What the heck is going on around here?' The world has changed that much, and there's nothing you can do about it."

Villanova coach Jay Wright considers himself a big college football fan and acknowledges that all major decisions involve a connection between football and basketball. Villanova, which does not play major college football, could be vulnerable.

"We'll still have a great conference. We've just got to get everybody to relax and let the emotions settle down," Wright said. "We can't be reactionary, even though I think everybody would like to see us do something. It's not about who we add, it's about who we keep."

Marquette coach Buzz Williams, who is proud to say he lost 31 pounds since the end of last season, is not losing sleep over which teams the Big East has lost or will lose. "I wish I could participate in the conversation more, but it is football-driven and we haven't played football at Marquette since the '50s," he said, adding that the school will continue to excel at basketball. "Even before Marquette came to the Big East, they won national championships and went to Final Fours."

It is no secret that Big East schools are unhappy with Syracuse and Pitt about having accepted the ACC's invitation. But UConn's Auriemma did add, "What would we have done if we had gotten that phone call?"

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