ESPN television broadcast team (from left) Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery...

ESPN television broadcast team (from left) Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery and Sean McDonough look on prior to the game between the Louisville Cardinals and Connecticut Huskies at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. (Feb. 1, 2010) Credit: GETTY IMAGES Joe Robbins

Sean McDonough arrived at Syracuse as a student in 1980, the primordial era of the Big East, saw the conference rise to spectacular heights and now will preside over its extinction -- at least in the form we have known it.

How will that feel? It's just really, really sad,'' he said Monday. "To throw all of this away is really sad.''

McDonough, who will call the Big East men's basketball tournament for ESPN -- including Saturday's final final -- is not the only announcer who will feel that way. One of his partners, analyst Bill Raftery, said, "It's like one of those things you've had your arms around and enjoyed forever. It's like losing a family member.''

Raftery was the coach at Seton Hall when the conference began and worked the tournament as an analyst as early as the mid-1980s. He said he walked to a breakfast Monday promoting CBS/Turner's coverage of the NCAA Tournament with NCAA executive Dan Gavitt, whose father Dave was the Big East's first commissioner.

"We discussed not so much the great times but the impact of the finality of this thing,'' Raftery said.

Marv Albert, who called early Big East tournaments with Bucky Waters, said of the original conference's demise, "It is a sign of our times, obviously . . . I will miss it.''

Raftery said he, McDonough and analyst Jay Bilas decided at the start of the season to focus on enjoying Big East games on ESPN during the regular season and tournament "and then when it's over to reflect.''

But now that the end is near, it is difficult not to, and not to lament what will be lost. McDonough mostly blamed the conference's football-playing members, not the basketball schools that will form a new Big East, with a tournament likely carried by Fox.

"All of it is basically being thrown away in the name of the almighty dollar,'' McDonough said of Gavitt's original vision. "It's just a cash grab is all it is.''

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