— If only it were as easy as one team bus getting stuck in the snow Saturday night. If only it were as easy as some of the boys vainly trying to push the bus free. If only it were as easy as getting a second bus and a long five-hour, 15-minute ride.
If only every Big East story had a problem-solver like Scott Kirkpatrick of Peter Pan.
"Scott was great; he's one of the most remarkable bus drivers I've ever been around," coach Kevin Ollie said after UConn had polished off Seton Hall 78-67 Sunday at Prudential Center. "He got us here at a reasonable hour. We had a successful trip.
"It was tough. Every entrance we tried to get on the freeway, I-91, I-691, just try to find somewhere [to get on] and there was always a truck on the entrance way. He didn't get frustrated. We didn't frustrated. We had a job to do. That's why I talked about the excuses. They didn't make none. I'm glad we've got Scott. I would have turned back around."
Yeah, if it only were as easy as keeping a group of young guys disciplined enough to remain focused through a long weather ordeal, yet loose enough to allow them to throw snowballs and for Shabazz Napier to wrestle in the deep snow with Omar Calhoun. If only it were as easy as finally arriving past midnight at their Newark hotel, getting five or six hours of sleep, tops, getting up for an early breakfast and still being convinced that while they couldn't control Mother Nature, they could control their effort and energy.
Now, if only somebody, Susan Herbst, Warde Manuel — somebody — could go to a chalkboard in the Big East office and write, "No excuses," the way Ollie did in the visitors' locker room.
They announced a crowd of 7,634 at the Rock for this one. It seemed like less. It sure sounded like less. The Pirates were drawing 6,390 heading into the day. In other words, they are hardly boffo box office. And at 2-9 in the Big East, they again seem to be fulfilling their destiny toward the bottom of the standings.
Yet you click on an ESPN.com report this weekend and you read more head-shaking news: NBC Sports Network, according to ESPN sources, has offered the Big East, which includes UConn, between $20 million and $23 million per year for six years to acquire the league's media rights for football and basketball. The breakaway Catholic 7 schools, meanwhile, are closing in on a deal with Fox Sports for between $30 million and $40 million a year, depending on how many schools ultimately join the new basketball league.
Think about that, UConn fans.
UConn football and UConn basketball, with three national championships since 1999, will combine to get between $2 million and $2.3 million a year.
That has to make you sick to your financial stomach, Husky fans.
You watch UConn, with two NBA lottery picks gone, two starters transferred, with the uncertainty of a new coach, systematically pound Seton Hall for the 27th time in 30 meetings. And on and on it goes. DePaul hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since joining the Big East. St. John's has made it once since 2000. Providence has no NCAAs since 2004. The Pirates haven't been to the Big Dance since 2006 and have one tournament win since the turn of the century.
And starting probably in 2014, they're going to rake in $1 million more a year than UConn?
That is fall-down hilarious. No excuses. But that is fall-down, freaking hilarious.
Believe me. I can comprehend the greed and the stupidity. When the Big East presidents turned down a $1.17 billion deal, an average of $130 million a year, with ESPN, they couldn't have been greedier or more stupid. That deal would have given the full football/basketball schools $13.8 million a year. But nooooo. And when everybody started bolting, it's 16 at last count, well, even that ugly guy in the corner known as the current deal worth $3.12 million a year for the football/basketball schools is looking handsome. Now, ESPN, if it wants, only has to match NBC Sports for virtual peanuts to get the remnants of the Big East.
Believe me. I understand the national TV reasoning. If you've got a few sexy basketball names like Georgetown and Villanova and can add Butler to Marquette, there's a winter attraction. I also understand how Temple, Tulane and UCF in a league that may or may not even be able keep the Big East name isn't nearly so sexy.
Believe me. I can even understand UConn fans who want to throw rocks at me for arguing that UConn's best course of action right now is to sit tight and not to break off to the basketball league with the Catholic 7 [if they'd have the Huskies] and go somewhere else with the football program. Heck, in three years I might be joining the rock throwers, but for now I'll argue sit tight and scream how amazing it is and how bad is sucks.
If college football gets any more important, UConn athletics is going to go broke.
But for now, I still stand on this.
ACC: $17.1 million per school a year in TV money. Big East: $2.3 million.
That's right. Even when you're feeling sick, keep saying, "$17.1 million. No excuses. $17.1 million. No excuses." In the meantime, have some fun watching a team that's having fun at 16-6 and has only eight games left before it doesn't get to play in the postseason … just like Seton Hall and DePaul and Providence most seasons.
"We didn't even realize how long we were on the bus for," Napier said after he and Ryan Boatright demonstrated Sunday the kind of frighteningly quick on-ball defense that harvested 10 steals between them. "We were just trying to have fun."
Napier had fallen asleep before the first bus pulled into a Hartford-area hotel to pick up the coaches and got stuck in the snow.
"I woke up and everybody was the off the bus," Napier said. "I went out and started playing with my teammates, throwing snowballs at each other. [The bus] was too hard to push. It's funny. It's the second time it happened. After [the Washington game, Dec. 29], we pushed the bus and it went. We were ecstatic. This time we didn't deliver. We all looked at each and went, 'We need to get in the weight room.' "
Ultimately, Napier and Boatright would take that fun out to the court. With under three minutes to go and UConn safely ahead by 14, Napier did one of the showboating off-the-backboard passes on a fast break that Boatright charged forward to dunk. Knowing what the team had been through all weekend, Ollie didn't mind.
"I wouldn't have done [the pass by Napier], but let the kids have fun," Ollie said. "They deserve it. They've been through a storm … I'm fine as long as it goes in."
"If I would have missed it," Boatright said, "it would have been a whole 'nother story."
For now, it's the same story: Another win for UConn, this one with an assist from Scott Kirkpatrick, and another blow to the stomach of conference realignment.