Requiem For The Big East tells story of Syracuse’s role in rise, fall of conference

Editor’s Note: Neither I nor The Juice Online received any compensation for this review.

It’s no coincidence that director Ezra Edelman, in his upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Requiem For The Big East starts—and ends—with Syracuse’s final game against Georgetown in the 2013 Big East Tournament.

After all, Syracuse versus Georgetown is what propelled the Big East to becoming one of the the elite basketball conferences in the country. On the flip side, Syracuse leaving the Big East was what ultimately led to the demise the conference as we knew it.

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Syracuse vs. Georgetown catapulted the Big East

The documentary is masterfully told and completely riveting. This especially holds true for Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova and St. John’s fans, because it features a heavy dose of Pearl Washington, Ed Pinckney, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Rollie Massimino, John Thompson, Jim Boeheim and Lou Carnesecca. It makes sense, since those four schools were among the reasons that the Big East rose from a hodgepodge of relatively unknown northeastern schools to the elite basketball conference in the country in an amazingly short period of time.

» Related: Jerami Grant is back—is Syracuse?

Edelman spends most of the film focused on this time period. If you (like myself) grew up after the 80s, most of this documentary will be like reading a history book (I mean that in the best way possible). But if you followed Syracuse and college basketball during this time period, then this will be a trip down memory lane.

And it’s quite a trip. There’s Thompson officially closing Manley. Pearl’s half court heave against Boston College. Boeheim flipping a chair after a press conference. And that’s just Syracuse’s highlights.

Edelman also appropriately goes into the cultural impact of the Big East on the black youth of the time period. Wearing Georgetown apparel during that time period wasn’t just a fashion statement. It was a statement of identity.

As the story unfolds, we see a moment in time where the Big East is invincible. The conference was basically printing money and had its pick of lucrative television contracts. As we know in hindsight, the money was a double-edged sword.

From here, it becomes clear where Edelman stands on demise of the Big East: Money created the conference. Money then killed it.

If you’re a viewer looking for more of a focus on the football aspect of the Big East, you won’t find it here. Nothing is mentioned about Miami’s football dominance. Virginia Tech is viewed as a liability for its basketball rather than a benefit for its football. Even the continued success of basketball is ignored after the 80s. Mere lip service is paid to former UConn coach Jim Calhoun and the three national championships that he won for the conference. Syracuse’s 2003 title was only mentioned in the context of conference defections.

Instead, the documentary skips forward to conference realignment, and the narrative quickly emerges that the marriage between the football schools and basketball schools was never meant to last. Money was eventually going to drive them apart.

It’s certainly a valid theory, and Edelman assigns an appropriate amount of blame to all involved, including Syracuse.

» Related: What to look for now that Syracuse basketball has finished the regular season

There’s always worry for Syracuse fans when it comes to these documentaries that SU will come off as the “bad guy” in this because Syracuse’s defection to the ACC was the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. But Edelman was fairly objective in his approach. Certainly, Syracuse was acting in its own interests; then again, so was everyone else. Boeheim says as much in one of his segments.

So it is indeed appropriate that Syracuse’s win over Georgetown in the final Big East tournament was part of the conclusion to this documentary. Following this clip, we’re shown a montage of the court, and Big East logo, being broken up.

An appropriate, if ultimately melancholy, conclusion.

30 for 30’s Requiem For The Big East premieres March 16 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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