Miami to join Big East in basketball

October 11, 1990|By Don Markus

The University of Miami needed to do something about its moribund basketball program. The Hurricanes had sold 362 season tickets last season at the nearly 16,000-seat Miami Arena, and a change of coaches hadn't improved the prospects of generating more interest.

The Big East Conference needed to do something to keep its membership intact. Despite unmatched success in basketball in its first 11 years, having only three of nine members playing Division I-A football had put the league on shaky ground.

"We had a lot at stake," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said yesterday. "To be blunt, our future was at stake."

Miami needn't worry about losing more money in basketball, and the Big East needn't worry about losing any teams. The most dominant college football program of the 1980s and the most-watched college basketball league in creation were married yesterday, to the sound of ringing cash registers.

The announcement in Coral Gables, Fla., followed two months of discussions between Miami and a number of suitors, most notably the Big East and Southeastern Conference. It also followed two days of serious discussions, which began with a meeting Monday with Big East officials and ended with a vote by Miami's Board of Regents to accept the Big East's invitation.

The Hurricanes, who had been an independent in all sports, will join the Big East in basketball starting with the 1991-92 season, but will remain free of all financial and scheduling ties in football until a solution can be worked out. Several plans, including a football-only alignment with the Atlantic Coast Conference, are under consideration.

"This is an extremely important decision," university president Edward T. Foote II said. "We have spent an inordinate amount of time on this. We have been friends. We can now become partners."

It will, for the time being, a limited partnership, one based on financial solvency for both parties. Despite their success in football -- three national championships in the past seven seasons -- the Hurricanes have been notorious for not being able to draw fans to the Orange Bowl. That, along with Miami's inability to make a dent in Division I basketball, began to drain the athletic department's budget.

"It's absolutely driven by gate receipts," Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich said.

According to the arrangement, Miami won't have to share its football profits with the Big East until some type of league is formed with the existing three Division I-A teams (Syracuse, Boston College and Pittsburgh). There also has been talk of aligning with another league, such as the ACC or the Southwest Conference, or inviting in a number of Eastern independents (Rutgers, West Virginia, Temple) for football only.

As far as basketball is concerned, the Hurricanes will share only minimally in the Big East's television package and tournament revenue during their first season, and gradually will work their way up to an equal partnership. Jankovich added that Miami's nationally recognized baseball program will stay independent for now, but will try to schedule Big East teams on their annual Florida trips.

Nearly from the moment he took over as commissioner last June from Dave Gavitt, Tranghese said that he had been trying to convince the Big East athletic directors that the league must focus its attention on getting Miami. But it wasn't until the SEC, and later the ACC, became involved in discussions that they began to listen seriously.

"I had the task of protecting the structure of the league," said Tranghese, who has been with the Big East since its inception in 1979.

That structure had begun to show cracks in the foundation. There had been speculation of the three Division I-A football schools leaving altogether, and the loss of Syracuse in basketball might have nearly ruined the Big East. That speculation ended yesterday.

"There were a lot of deep emotional, psychological, as well as financial ramifications if Syracuse were to leave," said Georgetown athletic director Frank Rienzo, chairman of the Big East's executive committee. "We're happy with this, because it didn't break up the family."

Said Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel: "We still have some issues to address, but this is a step in the right direction."

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