The experimental six-foul rule, which the Big East and three other leagues are trying this year and which gives the Hoya M & Ms 12 personals to play with, is a transparent sop to TV, intended to keep stars in games longer.
Of course, it has also given the Big East's Beasties an extra chance to hack away with impunity, and they're availing themselves of that chance. Thus it took Providence and St. John's 27 minutes to slog through the final 3:30 of playing time during their game last week. When Villanova and Georgetown hooked up two days earlier, a single minute in the second half—still early enough so no one was yet fouling tactically to regain possession—featured nine fouls, and ESPN couldn't join its telecast of Wisconsin and Minnesota, a couple of five-and-you're-out wimps from the Big Ten, until about eight minutes were gone in the first half. "The Big Ten's mad at us." says Big East assistant commissioner Chris Plonsky, whose conference's games usually are featured on ESPN before Big Ten games on Mondays and before ACC games on Wednesdays. "The ACC's mad at us. We make everybody late."
When TV finally gets fed up with the scheduling snafus, this rule—which encourages sloppy defense and only plays to the Big East's reputation for mayhem—will pass.
Opponents of the six-foul rule also point out that it discourages upsets because it takes away from weaker teams the option of attempting to get star opponents in foul trouble. But that argument is almost irrelevant to the Big East this season, because no one can define an upset. Even the three stragglers—Seton Hall, Pittsburgh and Boston College—have all punched upper-floor buttons in Calhoun's elevator for next season. Pitt has several talented, though ineligible, players in the bank and will add injured point guard Sean Miller. The Pirates have signed 7'2" Luther Wright from Elizabeth, N.J. And while BC's commitment from Bill Curley, a 6'9" local kid, isn't comparable to landing Wright, it has given the low-flying Eagles—they were 0-8 in the league as of Sunday—credibility.
A couple of Syracuse fans taunted Thompson as he left the court last Saturday. "Hey John!" they called out. "Who's Number One now?"
Thompson heard them. He wheeled around and pointed their way. "Wait," he said. "Just wait."
Such a turnabout in the Big East: the Hoyas invoking patience and the Huskies mushing happily through the here and now.