Big East nets five schools in expansion

C-USA members to give basketball profile a lift

November 05, 2003|By Jim Baumbach | Jim Baumbach,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK - The smile on Michael Tranghese's face was apparent from the moment the Big East Conference commissioner entered for the news conference yesterday afternoon. Two hours later, as he got ready to leave, the smile was still there, just as wide.

With various Big East college presidents and athletic directors by his side, Tranghese put his best face forward at an announcement that finally made official what had become the worst-kept secret of the college basketball offseason.

Marquette, Louisville, DePaul, Cincinnati and South Florida will join the Big East in 2005-2006, effectively replacing Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, who bolted for the Atlantic Coast Conference during the offseason.

"It's going to be great to go to work now and do what we want to do," Tranghese said. "These last six months have been a very difficult time."

After the basketball season ended with national championships for the Syracuse men and Connecticut women, the honeymoon didn't last long. It all went downhill for conference officials once word trickled out that several schools were considering leaving for the ACC. It then became evident this offseason was crucial to the Big East's future.

When the dust officially cleared yesterday, Tranghese called the changes a success. The school presidents and ADs present agreed with his assessment.

"People were critical we didn't move more rapidly," said the Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, Villanova's president. "We did move rapidly considering the care we gave this process. The outcome is that we've never felt better about the future of the Big East."

It's hard to argue the basketball end, which vastly improved by adding perennial powers Louisville, Marquette and Cincinnati. Tranghese floated the idea of possibly sending up to 10 teams to the NCAA tournament.

"I never say we're the best," he said, "but we're clearly as good as any conference ever put together."

But the future of Big East football leaves a lot to be desired, which will become an increasingly important issue come 2006, the year the current Bowl Championship Series deal ends. The Big East obviously expects to be included in future deals to get its share of bowl money.

Although Tranghese admitted Big East football has taken a turn for the worse, he fully expects to be a part of future playoff structures. "The hardest thing is we don't know what it will be," he said. "Whatever it is, I'm confident we'll be there."

Big East officials can only hope that its football programs will benefit from the expected success of the basketball side. Tranghese said details of the new basketball conference such as scheduling and division alignments haven't been discussed yet.

The transition begins when Miami and Virginia Tech leave for the ACC next year, but Tranghese said Boston College is contractually obligated to stay another year. Asked whether it's a closed issue when the five Conference USA schools will join the Big East, Tranghese said, "After the last six months, I don't consider anything closed."

Conference USA, meanwhile, moved quickly to replace the schools it lost, adding Marshall, Rice, Southern Methodist, Tulsa and Central Florida.

"While we clearly would have preferred that no Big East expansion occur, that expectation was unrealistic given the actions of the ACC," C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

A new Big East

In 2005-2006, the Big East Conference will include the following schools:

Football/basketball Basketball only

Cincinnati* DePaul*

Connecticut Georgetown

Louisville* Marquette*

Pittsburgh Notre Dame

Rutgers Providence

South Florida* St. John's

Syracuse Seton Hall

West Virginia Villanova*

-Moved from Conference USA

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