The St. John's renaissance has run into a brick wall all of a sudden.
It started last week with the news that the NCAA ruled three incoming freshmen ineligible for the first semester of the 2011 school year, leaving the Red Storm incredibly thin just before the start of the season. Steve Lavin had brought in nine new players to restock the program after graduation and other defections left them without all but one player from the team that lost to Gonzaga in the second round in the tournament last spring.
That was a serious blow to the program, but it is nothing compared to what will happen as a result of the frenetic conference realignment going on in college right now. When Syracuse and Pittsburgh jumped to the ACC last weekend, it was the latest domino that signaled the end of the Big East as we know it.
The conference's football schools meet on Tuesday night to discuss the future, and indications are strong that Connecticut and Rutgers will be the next teams to find a new home, likely in an ACC that will now stretch the entire limit of the Atlantic Coast it is named for.
If Texas and Oklahoma lead an exodus from the Big 12 to the Pac-12, there's talk that the remaining football schools (West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida) will try to merge with the Big 12 leftovers to form a new football conference.
Information is flowing fast and furious right now so we can't assume that things will play out exactly in this fashion. It seems clear that the days of the Big East as a 16-team superconference in basketball are over.
This is going to be a fluid situation for a while longer and we haven't even discussed Notre Dame yet. The Irish don't want to join a conference for football because of their deal with NBC, but feeling safe about that in the new world of college sports isn't really an option.
That leaves the Big East's basketball-only schools in a scary state of limbo. A league with St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova and the rest would still be a good league, but it would be one battling for far fewer at-large bids to the dance than they are used to getting.
Basically, they would be the equivalent of the A-10 or Horizon. There's no shame in that, but there isn't much glory either.
The killer thing about the disintegration of the Big East is that it is being driven entirely by football when the Big East was always a league built around basketball. Even if nothing else happens (highly unlikely, but play along), the loss of Syracuse and Pitt has eroded that identity significantly and will hurt the league in the eyes of the selection committee.
For the Johnnies, this is very bad news. Their program has just gotten back on its feet and now the rug is being yanked out from under it.
Maybe they can create a new basketball-only league with more cachet by joining up with the remaining Big East stalwarts in a new league fortified by schools like Xavier, Butler and St. Joe's. That league would have something to offer the TV networks that are financing this entire waltz, but it also might not be feasible for any number of reasons.
Short of that, this looks like a disaster for St. John's. Recruiting will be harder, the budget will be smaller and the brand will mean less, all because of a sport they don't even offer at the school.
And even if St. John's and the rest wind up in a cushy new basketball home, it will still be sad to say goodbye to the Big East. Traditions and memories can't stand up to money, a lesson that won't ever go down easily no matter how many times you learn it.