Big East’s swan song leaves Raftery sad
by Michael Hiestand, USA TODAY Sports
Bill Raftery coached in the Big East and, at ESPN and CBS, has called college basketball games for more than two decades.
But as he calls the final Big East conference tournament this week, on ESPN, he won’t dwell on the league’s effective demise.
He has talked with fellow announcers Sean McDonough and Jay Bilas about it, Raftery told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday,
“And we said we’d sit back and enjoy it and not wax poetic about what should have been or could have been. But afterwards, there’ll be some sadness.”
Raftery was a coach in the league — at St. John’s — in the Big East’s first two seasons before going into broadcasting in 1981. He got the idea for TV while he was a senior playing at LaSalle.
Raftery, who was drafted by the New York Knicks but never made the NBA, says the notion of being an announcer didn’t take hold immediately. “I thought I was going to be John Havlicek and then John Wooden. It turns out I was neither,” he says.
Raftery recalls the Big East, created in 1979, having “a warmth, cohesion and pride whenever a team made the NCAA Final Four.”
With seven Catholic schools leaving the league and taking the name with them, Fox is expected to get TV rights — with most games airing on the Fox Sports 1 cable channel that will replace Fox’s Speed channel and debut Aug. 17.
Raftery sees some early hiccups: “The big thing will be the exposure they’ll get. In a couple years, they’ll be as comfortable as ever. But in the short run, they’ll be explaining where they’re on and what time to watch.”
So Raftery has a suggestion for the schools to get attention — name just-retired pope Benedict XVI as its first commissioner: “That way, schools could be punished for any violations and go to confession at the same time.”
Michael Hiestand on Twitter: @byhiestand