Sports Beat “The new Big East”

The Big East conference has undergone some seismic shifts in the past few years as it has seen many of its members such as Syracuse, Boston College, the University of Miami, and the University of Pittsburgh bolt for the greener grass in terms of TV and licensing money of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Last year, the Big East, which has been home to St. John’s University since its formation in 1979, underwent its biggest reorganization as the seven Catholic universities that don’t have football teams: St. John’s, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, Providence, and DePaul decided to break away from the nonsectarian schools that do such as Louisville, Rutgers, and the University of Connecticut. The football schools are now in a conference called simply The American while the basketball-only colleges retained the Big East name. The new Big East has added Xavier, Creighton and Butler to make it a ten-team league.

At the Big East media day held last week at Chelsea Piers, Big East officials and team coaches admitted some apprehension at not having Louisville and UConn (particularly the Huskies women’s team which has long been the gold standard) but all parties echoed the sentiments of Commissioner Val Ackerman (who was instrumental in getting the WNBA off the ground in 1997) that the Big East would be competitive with rival conferences.

Big East officials will certainly be hoping that its New York team, the St. John’s Red Storm will have a great season. There is certainly reason for optimism as Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin appears to have such potential NBA players as forward JaKarr Sampson and guard DeAngelo Harrison on his roster. There is also a lot of buzz about freshman guard Rysheed Jordan who is reportedly one of the best high school players to come out of Philadelphia in years.

In today’s Internet world where nothing seems to be a secret, it is amazing that the reason why DeAngelo Harrison was suspended by St. John’s officials late in the 2012-13 season has remained a mystery. Harrison confirmed that he broke some team rules last year but wouldn’t get more specific than that.

The Red Storm women’s basketball team has quietly become one of the nation’s elite teams in recent years. Two years ago, President Obama picked them to make it into the NCAA Final Four. That did not happen but it did help put the team on the map.

Forward Amber Thompson is following in the footsteps of Da’Shena Stevens who graduated two years ago as both a key player on the court and a dedicated student off of it. She is one of the few college athletes to choose Accounting as a major.


Brooklyn Nets rookie center and Duke University alum Mason Plumlee found that it was a mixed blessing when Nets general manager and fellow former Blue Devil Billy King decided to have the Nets spend five days of training camp at their alma mater. “It was fun to be back in Durham but the veterans had me running all over town doing errands for them!” he told me.

It was nice of fellow retired Nets Kerry Kittles and Buck Williams to lend their support to Jason Kidd at the Barclays Center last Thursday night when the team retired his number 5 jersey which will now be hung from the rafters of that Brooklyn arena. Kidd’s teammate from the 2002 and 2003 Nets teams that made it to the NBA Finals, forward Kenyon Martin, sent his best wishes via a taped message from the Knicks training facility in Westchester. Martin is hoping to spend another season at Madison Square Garden.

It wasn’t exactly a shock that last Sunday Newsday endorsed Democrat Thomas Suozzi in his campaign to regain his old job and unseat the current incumbent, Republican Edward Mangano, in the race for Nassau County Executive. Newsday is owned by Cablevision which had designs on taking over running the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and refurbishing it. Mangano instead decided to award the Nassau Coliseum operations to Forest City Ratner which owns the Barclays Center.

The Jets restored some much needed luster to their rivalry with the New England Patriots when they beat them in overtime last Sunday afternoon, 30-27. For a rivalry to succeed, the teams have to more or less win an equal amount of games against each other. That has not been the case as the Patriots have dominated the Jets in recent years.

It wasn’t that long ago that a Jets-Patriots game would either be played in primetime or would be the national 4 PM game on CBS. Last Sunday’s game was played at 1 PM and CBS Sports did not even send their top broadcasting team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to call it. CBS elected to have Nantz and Simms broadcast the Chiefs-Texans game instead.

Clearly CBS executives believed that the once vaunted Jets-Patriots rivalry had come to resemble that of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny and we all know who always won their battles. I spoke to veteran Jets center, perennial Pro Bowl pick Nick Mangold about the perceived slight coming from the Tiffany Network, and whether the Jets-Patriots battles had come to resemble an old Warner Brothers cartoon. “Well we have beaten the Patriots but not as often as we’d have liked. You’ll have to ask CBS about how they view things,” he said in a miffed tone but understanding of why the question had to be asked.

The Jets won the game thanks largely to a new penalty that limits what the defensive team can do to prevent a field goal attempt kick from making it through the uprights. Jets kicker Nick Folk had just missed a low percentage 56-yard field goal when the yellow flag was thrown that gave the Jets new life in overtime. Had they not been the beneficiaries of the new NFL rule, Patriots QB Tom Brady would have had the football near midfield and there is a high probability that the game would not have ended jubilantly for Jets fans.

I asked Jets head coach Rex Ryan after the game about why his team did not try to get closer for Nick Folk by trying a 7-10 yard pass instead of a conservative running play that netted no yardage and forced a low percentage play. Ryan waffled initially and then said “We all believe in the Folk Hero!” He could have made life a lot easier for him however.

The Jets held a huge fund-raiser for the Food Bank for New York City last Saturday as it hosted a tailgating party at Pier 92 as part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival. Various local restaurants as well as national food and beverage manufacturers provided their products for patrons to sample. Renown Food Network chef Mario Batali, along with former Jets stars Joe Namath, Greg Buttle, Marty Lyons, Brandon Moore, and Tony Richardson greeted fans, signed autographs, and posed for photos.

Just down the road from Pier 92 at Chelsea Piers’ Lighthouse Restaurant, New York State’s official food and beverage promotional agency, Taste NY, held a brunch to highlight wines, beers, eggs, cheeses, and grains that are produced in the Empire State.

New York ranks just behind Vermont in the production of maple syrup. According to a spokesperson for Crown Maple Syrup, its products are more nutritious and are just as good for providing relief for colds and sore throats as honey.

Although it was not part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival, the Korean government hoped to ride its coattails and raise the profile of Korean cuisine to foodies by holding a sampling fair of its fare in Times Square last weekend. Kimchi, a vegetable that tastes like a bitter pickle, and Soju, its answer to vodka, are acquired tastes to put it politely. On the other hand, the short ribs were quite tasty.

Continuing on food, did you know that October is “National Pasta Month” according to the National Pasta Association (yes, there is a lobbying group in Washington for everything!)? The NPA feels that pasta gets a bad rap for being overly caloric but it claims that there are ways to avoid packing on pounds by substituting low-cal sauces, using more vegetables and less noodles when preparing dishes, and utilizing whole grain pasta instead of the traditional carbohydrate-packed spaghetti, shells, and macaroni.

Similarly, Olive Garden, the nation’s largest Italian-themed restaurant chain which has seen its sales suffer a 4% decline the past year, is trying a variety of ideas to reverse the tide. Their unlimited salad and soup deals are a great value and generally don’t put on the pounds unless you sit there for hours. In December, Olive Garden will be offering what they call shareable and smaller plate entrees as grilled chicken tapas and Parmesan asparagus that encourage those who might feel guilty just ordering appetizers as the principal meal to do just that without any hesitation.

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