Last night Syracuse defeated Rutgers 78-53 at the Carrier Dome to begin its Final Big East season. Coach Jim Boeheim passed Bobby Knight and moved into second place on the all time win list for college basketball coaches with his 903rd win. He trails only Mike Krzyzewsk from Duke in college basketball wins. Jim Boeheim is synonymous with Syracuse Basketball and the BIG EAST conference.
During his 37 years, Coach Boeheim has built Syracuse into one of the most successful college basketball programs in the country. Syracuse Basketball is one of the most strongest college sports brands. The loyal fan base is responsible for large crowds at “The Dome” and an “orange wave” of supporters in Madison Square Garden during the BIG EAST tournament. The formation of the BIG EAST conference during the 1979-80 season helped put Syracuse into the national sports spotlight. The BIG EAST tournament in March each year was a must see event. The best college basketball in the country was played in the BIG EAST. High profile players and intensely competitive coaches like John Thompson, Lou Carnesecca and Jim Calhoun made the BIG EAST fun. The rivalries were great. There was nothing like a Syracuse-Georgetown or a Syracuse-Conneticut game at the Garden. The BIG EAST made an emotional connection with college basketball fans. I will never forget my first BIG EAST game at the Garden. For Jim Boeheim and the other pioneers of BIG EAST basketball it was about living a passion, the competition, camaraderie with other coaches and being part of something unique that was bigger than any individual. Isn’t that what we are looking for in or careers?
Syracuse Basketball will continue to thrive with its move to the ACC and likely will benefit from increased exposure. THE BIG EAST as we have known it for the past 34 years will no longer exist. This a tale of two sport brands headed in very different directions. The money that is earned from playing in a football conference will help Syracuse but nothing will replace the passion of Jim Boeheim and the BIG EAST.
I had the honor of playing golf in the Jim Boeheim golf classic in 2008. I had five minutes one on one with Jim. He was a humble regular guy. He talked with great pride about the 2003 National Championship Team. Jim’s passion was Syracuse Basketball. His purpose was first to develop young men, then to win the BIG EAST championship and them take his team to the Final Four. Jim Boeheim and his wife Juli are very involved in supporting charitable causes in Central New York.
Boeheim and Syracuse survived a tough 2011-12 with the Bernie Fine case and Fab Melo’s suspension. He has often been criticized over the years for being gruff, for teams that couldn’t win the big game or for teams that couldn’t shoot free throws. For 37 years Jim Boeheim and Syracuse Basketball has been a work of art.