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Jim Boeheim On Syracuse, Pitt Leaving Big East: It's Time To Move On

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JIM BOEHEIM
AP

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim is wistful about his alma mater's decision to leave the Big East Conference, but he says it's time to move on.

"If we were leaving the old Big East, I'd probably be upset," Boeheim said Tuesday in an interview on Syracuse radio station WSKO. "But what we have now in the Big East isn't what we used to have. It's completely different. Am I still sad about it? Yeah. I mean, 30 some years in a league, you bet."

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Sunday that its council of presidents had unanimously voted to accept Syracuse and Pittsburgh, a move that increases its membership to 14 and sends the Big East scrambling to replace two of its cornerstone programs.

"It happened pretty fast," said Boeheim, the all-time leader in regular-season conference wins with 338. "It was one of those things that I think just came about. The university made a decision, the chancellor, and I think their concern is what's best for Syracuse University."

Syracuse was a charter member of the Big East, which was founded as a basketball conference in 1979.

"I think you have to understand two things," Boeheim said. "Basketball is my concern. Are we going to a great place to play basketball? Yes. How you get there, I don't think that matters. We're going to a great basketball conference."

And away from a teetering behemoth.

"We're leaving a 17-team Big East Conference that's going to include a team from Texas, Florida, Chicago, Wisconsin, Kentucky. We're not leaving what we founded. We're leaving something completely different," Boeheim said. "Obviously, it was unstable, and a couple of people criticizing this are people that could have saved the Big East. If Notre Dame wanted to save the Big East, they could have joined in 2004 and we wouldn't be having these discussions today.

"But they didn't want to."

Boeheim said football had driven all the expansions the Big East Conference has had. It raided the Atlantic 10 for West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Villanova, and Conference USA for Louisville, Cincinnati, and Marquette.

"All the moves in the last 15-20 years have been driven by football. Every one," Boeheim said. "So this is nothing new. This is nothing new. It's always been about football. When Mike Tranghese was the commissioner, it was about football. Now that he's out, it's still about football."

The Big East's exit fee is $5 million, and schools wanting to leave are supposed to provide 27 months' notice. Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said the university would do whatever the conference wants, but Big East commissioner John Marinatto told The New York Times on Monday night that he plans to force Pittsburgh and Syracuse to stay in the Big East until the 2014-15 academic year.

Boeheim wasn't so sure about that exit strategy.

"The Big East needs to move on," he said. "The Big East needs to be worrying about who they're adding and what they're going to do. If they can get a couple of teams, why would they say to those two teams, 'Well, no, you can't come in right now. We're going to hold Syracuse to two more years.' That doesn't make any sense at all.

"The best interests of the Big East, I would think, is to go ahead and make their moves."

Boeheim, who has been at Syracuse for nearly 50 years as a student, player or coach, ruffled some southern feathers with a dash of his trademark sarcasm during an appearance Monday in Birmingham, Ala. He said he expected the ACC tournament would mostly be held in the South and occasionally come to Madison Square Garden in New York, where the Big East has annually held its tournament.

"It's a great place for a tournament," Boeheim told The Birmingham News.

"Where would you want to go to to a tournament for five days? Let's see: Greensboro, North Carolina, or New York City? Jeez. Let me think about that one and get back to you."

On Tuesday, he said he had no qualms about an ACC tournament in Greensboro because he just goes to the games, then retreats to the team's hotel anyway.

"I don't care where they play the tournament," he said. "I go to the tournament, eat in the hotel and then I get ready for the next game. It's not like I'm going to shows.

"If this is the type of thing they're going to pick apart, they're going to be mad at Jim Boeheim for the rest of his ACC career."

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