Guest Blogger - Sixteen Vocal Basketball Coaches, and All in One Room

An eye-witness account of BIG EAST men's basketball media day from the perspective of Nick Infante, who provides a news clips distribution service to college athletics administrators

By Nick Infante, College Athletics Clips Editor

Wednesday I attended the Big East Men's Basketball Media Day at Madison Square Garden.  This is surely one of the bigger events on the college athletics calendar, because it signals the onset of the college basketball season for what has come to be the strongest basketball conference of all.  And basketball is the true passion of the masses in that imprecisely defined geography known as "the Northeast" (which is - roughly - the giant equilateral triangle that runs from Maine to Buffalo to Washington DC).

To be sure, several of the newer members of the Big East are not actually situated within that triangle, but the roots of the conference are definitely northeastern in origin.

But what exactly explains the outsized attraction of Big East basketball?  The conference's birth was two parts vision and one part luck.  When the Big East was launched in 1979, the seven charter members (Providence, Boston College, Syracuse, Georgetown, Saint John's and Seton Hall) were good - but not great - in basketball, and almost non-existent in football.

Then a lot of very positive things started happening: ESPN picked up Big East games (many on weekdays); the Knicks, 76ers, Nets and Celtics devolved into a longtime decline (shifting fan interest from pro to college); success fed success and multiple rivalries were developed.  

All of this contributed to putting the Big East at the top of the heap for all of college basketball.

But history was history, and now is now. And now was the Big East Men's Basketball Media Day, held at, of course, where else?.... Madison Square Garden on Wed. Oct. 20.
Ah, yes, Media Days. Although not a uniquely collegiate sports phenomenon (after all, the over-the-top Super Bowl and World Series are huge media events lasting an entire week) . . . . Media Days in the college ranks take on a special appeal, with a blend of national, regional and college journalists standing shoulder to shoulder to absorb words of wisdom from coaches and players.
Alas, thanks to the lingering effects of the recession, media days for most conferences have been reigned in significantly, with many conferences resorting to "virtual" versions (web and/or telephone conferences).  But the six founding BCSconferences still make the investment of drawing coaches and players to one location. They realize that media coverage is well worth the substantial investment of hosting the media for the day.

By now college basketball fans might have noticed some bias, boosterism, irrationality and/or lunacy by the mainstream Northeast press that has been complicit in building and embellishing the legend of the supremacy of Big East basketball.  And why not?  The Big East has been a major force in NCAA tournaments, four of its schools have won national championships and many of them have made seemingly annual visits to The Dance.  As in: How many teams from the Big East will get into the tournament this year? Seven? Eight? Nine?

So, just how big is Big East basketball? Well, a lot of in-the-know people would have no problem proclaiming that the Big East is to college basketball what the SEC is to college football.   Now that's big.
Fittingly, the Big East Men's Basketball Media Day is big. How big? Well, consider with the talent, which is impressive in both quantity and quality. Start with sixteen well known coaches, and several of them bona fide icons of the game: Pitino, Calhoun, Boeheim, Wright, Huggins, Dixon, Thompson III . . . Putting those names together sorta sounds like Murderer's Row of the '27 New York Yankees.
Meanwhile, each of the 16 schools brought two to four players, mostly seniors.   Several of the players were uncomfortable in these business-like clothes, but faces were shaved, feet were in shoes and pants were being worn properly pulled up to the waistline.
The Media Day was staged at Madison Square Garden, which has been proclaimed "The Most Famous Arena in the World" (and the site of the famous Big East Tournament).  The Garden is undergoing a multi-year several hundred million "Transformation" (that's what they are calling it), so the Media Day layout was a little different this year.  There were two areas; one was below The Theater at Madison Square Garden" (formerly the Felt Forum), and the other above.   

The lower part was a spacious back stage area, outfitted with two 3-foot high mini stages, each side with eight tables that were placed side by side. Behind each table was a 4-foot by 6-foot banner with school's name in large block letters. Deep blue drapes provided a distinctive backdrop.  This was the area where writers asked questions of the coaches and players.
The upper area was the TV/video/radio area, and it was a lineup of about 20 interviewing set-ups, with large cameras on tripods, multi-directional lighting, cords running everywhere and technicians all over.  It was pretty cool to watch these interviews taking place.

Each of the 16 coaches brought 2-4 of their star players, plus there were a dozen people from the Big East headquarters, a couple dozen or so Athletic Directors and Sports Information Directors, several MSG folks and - of course - the media: about 200 writers, reporters, columnists, wags, pundits, cameramen, lighting specialists, key grips, interviewers, radio guys, announcers and color commentary personalities.
Unfortunately I missed Big East Commissioner John Marinatto's welcome address the gathered literary glitterati, but I suspect that he might have described the Big East Conference Tournament as being "as much a part of the New York landscape as is the Statue of Liberty."  Just like he did last year.  That was well said.
All in all, it was a Media Day done well  . . . . .

Notable remarks:
Oliver Purnell, DePaul coach:  (explaining the quick turnaround that is possible in basketball)  "Compared to other sports basketball can be a quicker turnaround.  After all, in baseball you've got nine players, and in football you've got eleven.  But in basketball there are only five, and all it takes is two or three good players to make a difference."

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, "We're going to take a step back. We're probably now just the best league in the country rather than the best league in the history of college basketball. That's a step back."
Jim Calhoun, UConn coach:  (seemingly discussing various NCAA tournament expansion scenarios, but actually describing the concept of majority rules)  "68 teams  . . .  96 teams . . .  If one hundred people think one thing and two hundred people think another thing, well the two hundred will have more power."

Jim Calhoun, UConn coach:  (on which freshman will become stars) "What happens every year what I call the 'stars unknown.'  We know about juniors and seniors coming back, but the 'stars unknown' are going to appear."

Bob Huggins, West Virginia coach:  (when asked how he thought the Big East looks this year)  "Horrible."

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse coach:  (when asked if the Nike guys gave him his eyeglass frames, which have a tiny swoosh on the temple)  "Nope, I bought them at retail."