NEW YORK - Louisville coach Rick Pitino, as he likes to do at such gatherings, was holding court with the media.
And as he likes to do, he was turning the story to himself as he tried to make sense of the future of the Big East.
In this instance, the ever-quotable Pitino – who has coached two terms in the conference while it was at different stages of its existence – may have best explained the current plight.
Pitino, a wanderer who has had many stops between his time at Providence in the 1980s and his current job at Louisville, talked about one of his more infamous moves.
"This reminds me of when I left Kentucky to coach the Boston Celtics [in 1997]," Pitino said. "It was more money. Now I'm older and wiser, and I ask myself, 'Why?' You're happy, you're profitable, you're having success. Why would you leave? It makes no sense."
That's what Big East media day was Wednesday – a lot of people just trying to make sense of it all.
A conference that sent a record 11 teams (and deservedly so) to the NCAA tournament last season suddenly is on the verge of collapse again with the announced departures of Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC. Whether more schools leave (Louisville and West Virginia could be headed to the Big 12, Connecticut and Rutgers could be options for the ACC) isn't clear.
But this much is: The Big East is chasing football money. It's going to expand to rebuild its football base – and it is going to dilute the basketball product in the process. That's what happens when schools such as SMU, Houston and UCF are mentioned as possible all-sports additions.
The adults in the room tried to put on a happy face.
Georgetown's John Thompson III, who literally grew up with league while his father was at the helm of the Hoyas, said this is just part of the changing world of college athletics – noting how many times the league has "evolved" since it began in 1979.
UConn's Jim Calhoun, fresh off his third national championship, said he just wants to play basketball. And while he said he will offer his opinion, he is confident UConn's administration will do what's best for UConn – just as school officials at Syracuse and Pitt did.
But what's best for the schools is not best for the conference.
And there is no fooling the players.
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"It's going to hurt [recruiting] a lot," Louisville's Chris Smith said. "The chance to play Syracuse and Pitt and UConn means a lot. Those are the premier teams."
Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis agreed. He just rolled his eyes at the thought of a game at SMU replacing a game at Syracuse.
"That's why you join the league," he said. "For the teams, for the rivalries.
"I wish I had a say in it, but nobody asked me."
Perhaps they should have.
The sharp-shooting Abromaitis – who joked that coach Mike Brey recruited him only because he wouldn't have any trouble meeting the school's academic standards – is the league's two-time scholar-athlete of the year and now is in grad school. Abromaitis, as with all the players here, will be gone by the time Syracuse and Pitt (and others?) depart and the potential new schools come in.
But all of the players recognize the league's legacy is in jeopardy.
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Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore remembers his only goal coming out of nearby Paterson (N.J.) Catholic was to get to the Big East – the conference he grew up watching.
"I felt like if I went somewhere else, I was going to miss out," he said. "This is the best league, with the best teams and the best exposure. You get to play in the best places, [such as] Madison Square Garden."
He knows that no longer may be the case after this latest round of conference reshuffling is complete. And he can't understand why.
"I wish they could take the football teams and let them go play football but keep the basketball league," he said. "But you can't do that for just one sport, I understand. But the football is just not that good. Basketball is great. All 16 teams are solid.
"I hope the league can stay as good as it is, but it's going to be hard."
Especially if the conference no longer can draw top players.
When asked what he would say if a current high school standout asked him about where to play, Theodore said what league officials can only hope others are not thinking:
"I might tell them to go to the ACC."
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