GIGER: ORANGE WERE RIGHT TO STAY
The suggestion that Syracuse would be better off had it kowtowed to Joe Paterno's wishes and entered an Eastern all-sports conference 25 years ago is absurd.
The Orange always have been and will continue to be perfectly placed exactly where they are - in the Big East Conference.
Not every school in the East needed to ride the coattails of Paterno and the Nittany Lions to achieve sports success. It can be argued Pitt, Boston College and some other Eastern schools made a mistake by not forming a league with Penn State in the early 1980s, but to include Syracuse in that mix is flat out wrong.
ESPN's extensive Big East coverage in the 1980s transformed Syracuse basketball into a national power. The Orange never would have built or sustained rivalries with Georgetown, St. John's, Connecticut, Villanova and others had they joined an all-sports conference with Penn State because those schools either didn't have football or played in Division I-AA.
Syracuse is a basketball school - one of the most financially successful in the nation - that has achieved just as much success in its primary sport as Penn State has in football during the past two decades. Consider:
In this corner
Who: Cory Giger
What: Penn State football beat writer
Credentials: Grew up as a huge Syracuse basketball fan -- in Arkansas
Who: Neil Rudel
What: Mirror Managing Editor
Credentials: Has covered PSU football since 1978
n Both schools have won one national championship since 1986 - Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony in 2003 and PSU in 1986.
n The Orange have appeared in two other national title games during that span (1987 and 96), while Penn State was in the running twice, as well (1994 and 2005).
n Here's the kicker: While Penn State has only football to hang its hat on, Syracuse has enjoyed tremendous success in basketball and been a player on the national stage in football, too. The Lions have made it to basketball's Sweet 16 a grand total of once, while the Orange football team finished in the Top 25 a total of 10 times between 1987-2001.
Syracuse's football program is a joke right now, but during that 1987-2001 span it flirted with the Top 10 several seasons thanks to standouts like quarterbacks Don McPherson, Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb, receivers Marvin Harrison and Qadry Ismail and defensive end Dwight Freeney.
The Orange finished No. 4 in 1987, No. 11 in 1991, No. 6 in 1992 and No. 14 in 2001. They also have gone 9-2-1 in bowl games since 1987 and won or shared four Big East titles.
Given its location and recruiting drawbacks, all in all, Syracuse has enjoyed about as much success in football as it could have hoped for during most of the past two decades. Couple that with the basketball success, and it's silly to argue that the Orange made any mistakes with their conference affiliation.
If anyone made a mistake, it's Paterno. Instead of joining the Big Ten, he should have joined the Big East so the Lions could beat up on the softer teams and be in better position to contend for a national title every year.
RUDEL: BUT IT HURT THEIR FOOTBALL
I always enjoy a chance to joust with my esteemed colleague, Mr. Giger, across the page.
Today's subject is whether Syracuse would have been better off leaving the Big East in the early 1980s to join the all-sports Eastern conference being driven by Joe Paterno.
Yes and no.
No in that the Big East and Syracuse have been a wonderful marriage in basketball as Jim Boeheim has won a national championship and truly built an elite program, evidenced by the love affair a young lad from Arkansas, then in his early tweens, adoring the likes of Pearl Washington, DC and Billy Owens.
So you're right on that, Cory.
Where history will show Giger and Syracuse are not right is what's happened with the once-proud Orange football program.
Yes, Syracuse has had some good teams over the past 20 years, but it is not the national program it was in the 1950s and '60s and, as a football member of the Big Least, it has virtually no chance of recapturing its glory days.
Ironically, the East was never better than the time Paterno was trying to get the league together. Penn State was peaking with three appearances in the national championship game in five years. Pitt, in the Dan Marino era and a defense equal to its offense, was a beast. Boston College had Doug Flutie. West Virginia had Jeff Hostetler. Syracuse had Don McPherson. Rutgers was making strides.
Who knows the ceiling on the potential of what that league - before television coverage really exploded - could have been? Paterno says Maryland was interested. Miami might have been, too. After all, it tripped over itself to join, and then later left, the Big East after PSU went to the Big Ten about a decade later.
Pitt's arrival in the Big East torpedoed Paterno's all-sports conference - and it also ultimately torpedoed Pitt football.
Like Syracuse, Pitt has very little to sell in football these days. It almost certainly is selling a different product than Penn State.
Ditto Boston College, another school that elected to stay in the Big East before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, a move Syracuse almost made, as well.
After Pitt got in the Big East in 1983, it, along with Syracuse and BC, erred by not successfully convincing the league to invite Penn State, too. (League minutes say an unsuccessful vote was taken to admit Penn State prior to that, but Paterno says the Lions weren't interested in a basketball-only conference.)
In the meantime, Syracuse, Pitt and BC lost the jewel of their schedule in Penn State and may never totally recover.
Where Paterno erred is not having a comprehensive plan that could have included such non-football schools as Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and, at the time, Connecticut.
Imagine what that league could have been today. It could have featured two divisions - one for football and the other for basketball, where the basketball schools played each other twice a year and crossed over to play the football schools once.
Would Penn State basketball have benefitted? Well, let's not go that far, but at least the Nittany Lions would have been selling an Eastern product.
One thing's clear, however: By not staying aligned with the king of Eastern football, Syracuse, Pitt and BC set their programs back.