There is a line in a classic Steve Martin Saturday Night Live sketch in which he lists his wishes for the Christmas season and realizes he has omitted something crucial: “Oh jeez!” Martin cries, “I forgot about revenge against my enemies! OK, I need revenge against all my enemies; they should die like pigs in hell.”
While I am pretty sure Jim Calhoun had no such memory slippage, I am also pretty sure that, deep down, he was glowing like Jeff Foxworthy at a tractor pull Monday night, and not simply because he had guided his Connecticut team to its second national title in six seasons.
Calhoun was one of the most vocal critics of the dismantling of the Big East Conference that will occur over the next two seasons — thanks to the infiltration of the Atlantic Coast Conference. In 2003, the ACC’s FBI raided the Big East’s Branch Davidian Waco Compound and emerged with the David Koresh of the league (Miami), along with two of his minions (Virginia Tech and Boston College). The ACC raid, unlike its predecessor, was conducted efficiently and without failure.
At the preseason Big East basketball press conference, Calhoun bitterly stated that he would no longer schedule Boston College, opting to terminate a long-standing rivalry simply because the teams will no longer be mandated to play each other twice a season. The thought of a school making a move to better itself was simply too much for Calhoun to bear.
Luckily for us, Calhoun turned out to be only honing his idiotic comment skills in the preseason, and he was in rare form by the season opener. Remember him frantically calling out Yale head man James Jones after the Elis put a scare into the at-the-time No. 1 Huskies (taking a lead into halftime)? Why would Calhoun possibly take umbrage at Jones’ statement that he would relish the opportunity to face UConn again in March? Jones was clearly stating the obvious fact that he would just be thrilled to get Yale into the tournament even as a No. 16 seed, but Calhoun took it as a challenge and a personal affront, stopping just short of challenging Jones to a ten-paces-and-turn duel.
Later in November, Calhoun won a controversial recruiting battle for prized forward Rudy Gay. The much-hyped prospect seemed on the verge of committing to Maryland, especially after he attended Midnight Madness in College Park. It appeared that Gay only chose to travel to Storrs after UConn paid $22,000 to the organization that runs Gay’s AAU team to schedule a scrimmage between the Huskies and Gay’s Beltway Ballers.
Maryland coach Gary Williams insinuated Calhoun had crossed the line, and Calhoun responded by telling reporters, “I’m not telling Gary what to do, but you win some in recruiting and you lose some, and usually it’s because the other guy did a better job or the kid wanted to go away.” Wait, it seems like Jim was tooting his own horn. Impossible! You think it made it any sweeter that Williams was his rival when the Sweat-meister coached at — yup — Boston College?
During the NCAA Tournament, Calhoun would not shut up about how great his team was and how they were without a doubt the favorites to win. This obviously turned out to be the case, but no one wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Some people are arrogant and engaging (Warren Sapp), some are merely off-putting (Alex Rodriguez), but some, like Calhoun, are smug and infuriating.
So the man who was deliciously snubbed by the Hall of Fame on the day of the national championship game (I know he will get in eventually, but I enjoy letting him sweat it out) got revenge on the ACC by eliminating two of its entries (Duke and Georgia Tech) in the Final Four. He might be loath to admit it, but this event undoubtedly tickled him inside.
It is quite apparent that any Big East school offered membership to the ACC would have accepted, and the only reason is football. It is understandable that Calhoun and Jim Boeheim — coaches of the last two national champions — do not want to see their sport get sacrificed to the altar of the pigskin, but they should realize the financial considerations that went into the decision and accept it. Indeed, Boeheim’s Syracuse was originally touted to be one of the three teams that would be tabbed by the ACC but was ditched at the eleventh hour for Virginia Tech. If the school had been offered admission, Boeheim would have gone, like it or not.
While Big East football might well lose its automatic Bowl Championship Series bid and be relegated to irrelevance, barring the miracle addition of Notre Dame, its basketball conference is on the verge of becoming a ridiculous force, following a merger that rivals the talent compilation of the Traveling Wilburys. While three good-to-mediocre hoops teams exit, five good-to-excellent (Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida) programs enter. The Big East put six teams in this year’s tournament. Conference USA (from which the five new Big East teams will arrive) also put six in the tournament, and one team that did not qualify this year — Marquette — made last year’s Final Four.
So Big East basketball, home of three of the past six national champions and counting on a revival from traditional sources of power Georgetown and St. John’s, will survive and thrive. The ACC is looking at having five teams in next year’s preseason top 10. Calhoun got his title and his revenge. Comcast in New Haven added NESN. Now everything would be right with the world if Calhoun would find it in himself to spare us his verbal garbage.