By Barry Janoff
April 5, 2013: The massive new alignments in college football and basketball conferences are all about change, but Dick Vitale is mad that these changes are are being driven by dollars, and in some way make no sense.
Vitale has been with ESPN since 1979, has worked more than 2,000 college basketball broadcasts from hundreds of venues and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He has witnessed the changing of the college sports landscape firsthand. He knows what it's all about and what it means. But that doesn't mean he's all that happy about it.
"It's all about the cash, cash, cash," said Vitale during a media conference call this week in anticipation of the NCAA Div.I men's basketball Final Four. "My feelings are very simple: It's total chaos. It's all about greed. It's all about football."
Vitale is as enthusiastic about college basketball as he has ever been. Especially since he still gets to explore new territory. This year, from Atlanta, he will for the first time in his career serve as the analyst on Final Four telecasts, calling a semifinal and the championship for ESPN International. The national telecasts are on CBS, with Wichita State taking on Louisville and Syracuse versus Michigan on April 6, and the championship game on April 8.
But talking about Louisville, Syracuse and other top-flight basketball programs only enhanced the issue for Vitale.
"For me, a real traditionalist, it bothers me geographically where teams are going," he said. "Seeing Syracuse (moving from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference) playing Clemson versus playing Georgetown, it just makes no sense. With the Big 12, we won't see Kansas play Missouri (which left last year for the Southeastern Conference). It's sad. Really sad."
"It's all about the cash, cash, cash. My feelings are very simple: It's total chaos. It's all about greed. It's all about football."
For many, the Big East epitomizes the massive changes and challenges that have taken place in college sports.
The basketball programs from seven Catholic universities — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova — broke off but worked a financial deal to keep the Big East name. The new ten-team Big East officially begins July 1 with those seven schools plus Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
Miami and Boston College left in 2004 and 2005, respectively to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. West Virginia departed in 2012 to join the Big 12. Syracuse is heading to the ACC.
The remaining teams formed what has officially been named the American Athletic Conference. For the upcoming season, the members will be Louisville, Rutgers, Central Florida, Temple, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa will join on July 1, 2014. Football-only member Navy will come on board July 1, 2015, creating what would be a conference with two six-team divisions (with alignment still to be determined.
The America Athletic Conference has signed new TV deals with ESPN and CBS. Among other TV exposure, a conference football championship game will be televised on either ABC or ESPN.
"It's everybody running," said Vitale. "You can't tell the Big East, the old Big East, one team here, one team there, football teams in different conferences from their [university's] basketball team. It's mind-boggling."
Despite his feelings on realignment, Vitale stresses that his love of college basketball has not waned and, in fact, may be as strong as it's ever been. He got to share some of that enthusiasm last night (April 4) when he appeared on TBS's Conan, which this week has been broadcasting from Atlanta, where the Final Four games will be played in the Georgia Dome. The guest list also included Charles Barkley, who has been an analyst for CBS and Turner during March Madness; and baseball great Hank Aaron, whom Vitale called "one of my boyhood heroes."
“I am thrilled for this awesome opportunity to sit courtside for the NCAA championship game,” Vitale said when it was revealed in February that he would be part of the ESPN International Final Four crew as a game analyst. “I will deliver the same enthusiasm, energy, excitement and respect as I do with every game I work. I can’t believe it. All my buddies in Italy are going to be able to hear me. I just hope they can understand what I’m saying. It’s going to be awesome, baby, with a Capital A!”
However, Vitale is well aware that the landscape in college sports will continue to change.
"I would have never dreamt that this would occur," he said. "It's all about dollars. And it's all greed. Sometimes we don't think about this, but some of the sports that are not producing could get hurt along the way."
But for Vitale, the enthusiasm still reigns. "There's nothing like the Final Four," said Vitale. "Kids play for the name of the front of their jersey, not the name on the back. It doesn't get any better than this."
PHOTOS: COURTESY ESPN
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