Editorial: March Madness a tribute to a local legend

The March Madness college basketball tournament is a national phenomenon with growing global interest that’s become so immensely popular that one month just can’t hold it all. That’s why the championship game was held last night — April 8 — as viewers tuned in to see Louisville from the Big East Conference play Michigan from the Big Ten.

The game also marked a relatively quiet transition that belies that enormous contribution made to the sport by Dave Gavitt, a Peterborough High hoops legend that went on to coach Providence College; run the Boston Celtics; put together the famed 1992 Olympic Dream Team; and ultimately enter the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Even with those credentials, Gavitt’s enduring contribution may be in March Madness itself. He was the driving force to push the tournament to 64 teams, thus creating the brackets we see today that fuel interest from die-hard fans to office pool amateurs. Perhaps even a bigger legacy was his creation in the late 1970s of the Big East Conference. By the 1980s, stars like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Pearl Washington were household names that launched the sport to new heights.

In recent years, the Big East has begun to collapse under the weight of its own history, adding too many teams and getting away from the founding principles that Gavitt himself put in place — small schools that focused on basketball and education.

Monday’s game marked the end of an era. The Big East, which ballooned to 15 teams and expanded to include football, is returning to its roots. Next year it will once again be a basketball-only conference with 10 teams, including many of the originals — Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova.

Gavitt, who died in 2011, had a knack for making things bigger and better. But we think he’d be awfully pleased that his conference is taking a step back in order to go in the right direction.

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