The Big East as we knew it is ending, but, for Hartford as least, it is ending well.
There was a time when the city had no inkling about how to run a major basketball tournament. That has changed, particularly over the decade that the city has hosted the Big East women's tournament. Thanks to the work of many groups, there is tremendous action on the floor and a lot to do downtown between games. There's face painting, photos with mascots, visits by former stars, a fan bar and lounge, and more.
The tournament is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors and inject more than $2 million into the local economy by the time it ends tonight.
This great run ends because the Big East is breaking up: After some teams left for other conferences, seven Catholic schools split off to form their own basketball conference and are taking the name with them. It's been a great run for the UConn Huskies, who since the Big East was created in 1979 have won three mens' and seven women's national championships, along with numerous conference titles.
After tonight's championship game, there's naught but to look ahead. UConn will end up in an as-yet-to-be-named conference with some respectable opponents such as Cincinnati, Temple and Memphis. The Huskies will continue to play many of the best teams in the country, and continue to draw good crowds to its two venues, the XL Center in Hartford and Gampel Pavilion at the flagship state campus in Storrs.
In learning how to put on basketball tournaments, the city has gained a sophistication in event management that will serve it well as it pursues other events. That said, it would be great if Hartford were the site of the new conference's tournaments.