After Defending the Big East, Pitino is Now Leaving It (UPDATED)
After stridently defending the Big East conference over the last year and saying he “wouldn’t mind dying a Big East coach,” Rick Pitino and his Louisville Cardinals are now leaving the league.
Louisville is headed to the ACC in 2014 after that league’s presidents and chancellors voted unanimously Wednesday morning to add the school as its 14th member.
“I thought it was great for the city, great for the university, but most of all great for our fans because there’s too much bad news coming out of the Big East that I love so much, still do,” Pitino told WHAS Wednesday in Louisville.
“Going to miss it terribly. But for our university academically, athletically, for the fans, for the city it’s just an awesome, awesome thing to happen.”
The decision to join the ACC was obviously made higher up than any one coach at the school.
The ACC needed a 14th member after Maryland — and Rutgers — left for the Big Ten.
And really, who wouldn’t want to get out of the “Big East” at this point? It’s like rats jumping off a sinking ship.
Reports had Cincinnati and UConn both making their cases to the ACC, only to be spurned for Louisville because of its high-level football and basketball programs (and not so much for its less-than-stellar academic reputation).
When UConn initially expressed interest in the ACC in 2011, Pitino told me this:
“How can you want to leave? Why would you want to leave? My biggest mistake I made in my life is when I left Camelot [Kentucky]” to lead the Boston Celtics in 1997. “They’re leaving Camelot. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of.”
Until Wednesday’s news, I suppose.
Ironically, Louisville and Rutgers will play a football game Thursday for the Big East’s automatic BCS bid, but neither school is now committed to the Big East going forward.
In the wake of the defections of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, Pitino had lobbied then-Big East Commissioner John Marinatto hard for the additions of Memphis and Temple to bolster the league’s basketball profile.
He was successful and then got into a tit-for-tat with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim about whether those schools could adequately replace Syracuse, an original Big East member, when it heads to the ACC in 2013.
Both said the other was “full of s**t” at Big East media day last month.
“Look, we’re going to miss Syracuse because they bring more than just a team,” Pitino said then. “They bring the fans and Memphis and Temple can’t do that.
“But anybody who looks at where Memphis has been in the last 10-12 years, anybody who looks at the tradition of Temple and knows Franny Dunphy, would know I’m not full of s**t.
“If Temple played Syracuse 10 times right now, one’s gonna win six and the other’s gonna four. Syracuse and Pitt are two great teams.”
He added: “I think [Boeheim] is full of s**t. I’ve worked with Jim, I don’t always agree with him.”
Boeheim had earlier countered, calling out Pitino for wanting to head to the Big 12.
“Rick’s full of s***t if that’s what he really said,” Boeheim said at media day. “If he was in the Big 12 right now like he wanted to be, he’d being saying the Big 12 is the best. That’s the bottom line.”
He added: “The only thing I’ll say about what Rick said all summer is that if Louisville could have left they would have left. Everybody knows it and I’m really tired of him saying what Syracuse should be or should have done because they would have left in a heartbeat. Everybody knows it.
“I don’t mind him denying that fact, but when they start talking about Syracuse, I’m going to start talking about them.”
It will be interesting to hear Pitino’s thoughts on this latest move.
Certainly he’ll express regret for leaving the Big East, but he, like Boeheim, will also probably say this Big East is no longer the Big East he joined.
It looks a lot more like Conference USA.
(Will the Big East now send out feelers to high school power Don Bosco Prep to bolster its increasingly sagging football profile?)
Now Pitino, after a year of defending and embracing the Big East, will have to defend and embrace the ACC, where he will be able to match wits on a regular basis with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams and, yes, Boeheim, too.
One thing’s for sure: Pitino won’t be able to call out Boeheim or Syracuse anymore.
Now they’ll share the same lifeboat that cut ties with the dying Big East.
Photo: Getty Images
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.