Documentary

Published on October 3rd, 2014 | by Clint Davis

ESPN 30 for 30: Requiem for the Big East [2014]

ESPN 30 for 30: Requiem for the Big East [2014] Clint Davis

Summary: Perhaps the biggest scope of any ESPN 30 for 30 documentary yet, this celebration of the Big East Conference is two parts powerhouse highlight reel, one part eulogy. It makes today's hoops landscape look boring.

4

Damn Fine


User Rating: 0 (0 votes)

NR | 104 min.

Director: Ezra Edelman

Editor: Bret Granato

Network: ESPN

Original Air Date: March 16, 2014

Requiem - Big East logo

The Big East Conference, especially its basketball legacy, is celebrated in the film.

As the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament played out across several television networks and streamed worldwide online, I couldn’t help but think of Dave Gavitt and the wide grin he’d have had on his face if he could’ve seen it.

In 1979, Gavitt was a co-founder of the Big East Conference and is largely credited as the architect of that groundbreaking college basketball-centric league. To oversimplify Gavitt’s aim, he dreamed of college basketball having more than just a once-a-year matchup of the game’s top talents — and rather a stream of must-see entertainment every week.

Under his leadership, the Big East came to define modern sports and its transition into mainstream entertainment. No American television network has been more instrumental in that aforementioned transition than ESPN (the E stands for ‘Entertainment,’ for crying out loud), so it was fitting that they would produce the definitive chronicle of that now-defunct conference.

Requiem - Dave Gavitt

Big East co-founder Dave Gavitt is the movie’s cause célébre.

Part of ESPN’s outstanding 30 for 30 documentary series, Requiem for the Big East is a swaggering piece of nostalgia with balls to spare.

Director Ezra Edelman is a relative newbie to feature filmmaking — Requiem for the Big East marked his second time directing — but you get the sense from this movie that his passion is firmly in telling sports stories. Every credit on Edelman’s short IMDB page is connected to a sports documentary, including his next project which is another ESPN-produced entry.

At this point, I’ve seen every installment in the network’s 30 for 30 series and have been enthralled by the style and substance of many, but my chief complaint has often been with the constrained scope of the films. At 104 minutes, Requiem clocks in as one of the longest entries in the series — and honestly, it could have been at least 20 minutes longer.

The scope of this movie is perhaps wider than any other 30 for 30 film as Edelman tries to tell the story of how the modern sports business came to be. Big personalities and even bigger money stemming from innovative television contracts came to make the Big East Conference what it was, while also spurring its downfall.

Requiem - SI Issue

This 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated pays tribute to the undoing of the conference.

The Big East unofficially disbanded in 2013, being renamed The American Athletic Conference for its football-playing members, while 10 non-football schools now make up the new Big East. At its start, Gavitt and other founders hustled to get seven virtually unknown East Coast universities to join their humble new league and of those, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s and Seton Hall are the lone charter members still involved.

In the end, the league had expanded to hold 16 members, stretching as far south as Miami, Florida. It got too big for its own good and its power was evaporated by a constantly-changing college football landscape. But while Requiem is at times a bittersweet goodbye to the Big East, it’s also a powerhouse highlight reel of some of the conference’s most bombastic moments.

Edelman did a fine job getting candid interviews with all the major players behind the success of the Big East — only missing Gavitt, who passed away in 2011. You hear from iconic Big East basketball coaches like Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, John Thompson of Georgetown, Lou Carnesecca of St. Johns, Rollie Massimino of Villanova and Rick Pitino of Louisville. These guys give the audience some name recognition, each providing a trip down Big East memory lane.

Requiem - Ewing

Old highlight clips of Big East stars like Patrick Ewing will give any basketball fan chills.

The best insights into the creation of the conference and into Gavitt’s immense vision for it come from Mike Tranghese, the Big East’s second commissioner. Tranghese was Gavitt’s right-hand man and spent 30 years behind the scenes during the glory days of the conference. Tranghese’s loyalty to his late friend is one of the chief reasons Gavitt is portrayed as an omnipotent Godlike figure through this entire film. It’s as if he were the Nostradamus of sports, predicting everything the business would become — it’s the most heavy-handed aspect of Requiem for the Big East.

The first two-thirds of the movie is and endless nostalgia trip as the coaches recall the conference’s early marquee players including Pearl Washington, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. The film’s final 30 minutes set an altogether different tone, feeling not unlike a funeral eulogy.

Requiem’s cautionary tale is a familiar one in the 30 for 30 canon. Just as greed seemingly crushed the United States Football League (Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?), Southern Methodist University athletics (Pony Excess) and two women’s dreams of Olympic glory (The Price of Gold), it crumpled the Big East Conference. According to Edelman’s film, the Big East turned down a $1.4 billion broadcasting rights-extension from ESPN in 2011 for hopes of more money that never came.

Requiem - Memories Sign

A Big East fan sums up the film in one statement.

The conference’s shift in focus from basketball to football is another reason cited for the Big East’s demise. The conference’s football glories — which included two national championships won by the University of Miami — are mostly glossed over in the film. Make no mistake, this was a picture made for hoops fans.

The movie’s minimalist musical accompaniment, composed by Gary Lionelli, is fitting. The score manages to never get in the way, but constantly reminds the audience this is a farewell piece.

In the end, we get on-court highlights from the anticlimactic final meeting between Syracuse and Georgetown — the conference’s most heated rivalry — shot and shown to us as a film, rather than the traditional TV highlight style which always feels disconnected from the action.

Requiem for the Big East is a hell of a bummer once the credits roll but its message is one of letting the past be. As Boeheim says, reflecting on his team exiting the conference in 2013, “It isn’t the Big East … we’re leaving a whole different animal. I’m disappointed and nostalgic for what we had, but that’s long gone.”

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at TheClintDavis@gmail.com.



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