- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

NEW YORK — Just when it looked like the Big East was about to disintegrate because of member defections, the conference is on the verge of becoming a 16-team super college basketball conference.

Commissioner Mike Tranghese said yesterday the league’s college presidents will vote Tuesday on admitting Conference USA powers Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida to join for the 2005-06 season.

Pending approval, Central Florida will join the conference as a football-only member. Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida will compete in both top revenue-producing sports. Marquette and DePaul will participate only in basketball.

“It was an incredible year by any measurement, and now we’re going to add teams that are going to make us better,” Tranghese said yesterday at the league’s annual basketball media day at Madison Square Garden. “From a basketball perspective, you can’t do any better. Our coaches have already talked about some of the teams, and they already know who they are recruiting.”

The Big East took an apparently devastating hit when football powers Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech decided to join the ACC. Miami and Virginia Tech begin ACC play next season, Boston College in 2005.

Currently, the Big East is a 14-team basketball league with one division. The conference scrapped its two-division format after last season because some of the traditional basketball rivalries were lost by having to play each team in the division twice. For example, Georgetown did not play Boston College, Villanova or Connecticut last season in conference play.

Expanding to 16 teams will mark the biggest increase in league membership in the Big East’s 25-year history.

“It’s not just a 16-team league; we’re talking about a 16-team league that can play,” said Tranghese, who is entering his 14th year as commissioner. “It’s going to succeed because our people want it to succeed.”

The Big East is coming off arguably its greatest year ever. Syracuse won the NCAA men’s basketball championship, Connecticut won its second consecutive NCAA women’s basketball title, and the NIT had an all-Big East final with St. John’s defeating Georgetown 70-67. It was the first time any conference won all three titles in the same year.

From a travel and basketball standpoint, losing Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC is no big deal. Losing Boston College hurts, though, because the school was one of the seven original members.

Tranghese said he will not attend any Miami, Virginia Tech or Boston College games as long as those schools are still in the Big East.

“It’s not that I’m angry with them — I just think it’s the appropriate thing to do,” Tranghese said. “It’s sad to see schools that have been together for a long time all of a sudden change conferences. When we first formed the conference in 1979, the first couple years Dave Gavitt [the Big East’s first commissioner] was criticized by some people because they thought the creation of the league had a negative impact on eastern basketball. I really found that at the time to be mind-boggling.”

Meanwhile, Connecticut was a unanimous choice to win the men’s regular-season title in a vote of the league’s head coaches. Georgetown was predicted to finish 12th. The top 12 teams from the final regular-season standings qualify for the Big East tournament.

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