Rick Pitino says Big East will survive

September, 21, 2011
Despite the losses of Syracuse and Pitt, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is confident the Big East brand of basketball will not only survive but thrive.

He said the Cardinals have no desire to go to another conference and are committed to making the Big East a strong and stable conference.

"I'm happy with Big East basketball," said Pitino, who was on the road recruiting when reached by ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon. "I didn't want to lose Pitt and Syracuse, but now we're at a manageable 15 teams. We still have top-20 teams in Cincinnati, Georgetown, Marquette, Louisville, Villanova and West Virginia. We still have a great league. The schools like Rutgers and DePaul are getting much better. Losing Syracuse and Pitt hurts our quality, but 17 was going to be ridiculous."

The Big East still may have 17 teams in men's and women's basketball when TCU joins the conference in 2012-'13, unless Pitt and Syracuse can buy their way out of the 27-month departure bylaw that the conference is going to enforce before those schools leave for the ACC. The exit fee is $5 million.

"None of us here want to leave the Big East or playing in Madison Square Garden," Pitino said. "We want to be in the Big East in recruiting. We're very happy in the Big East."

Pitino said he was told that the Big East will add service academies Air Force and Navy by the end of the week -- but only in football. The conference will have football-playing members Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Rutgers, Connecticut, TCU and West Virginia in 2012 if Pitt and Syracuse leave, making it imperative to add more football programs. Of course, at the same time, UConn is actively trying to get into the ACC with Pitt and Syracuse.

Pitino said the Big East was trying to secure Air Force and Navy before the departures of Pitt and Syracuse. Navy is an independent, but Air Force would have to decide if it makes sense to leave the Mountain West for football and keep its other sports in the league. The MWC has a similar reverse deal with Hawaii joining the conference in 2012 only for football. The Warriors will play in the Big West in all other sports. Hawaii is currently in the WAC in all sports.

As he first pointed out in a blog he wrote earlier this week, Pitino is skeptical of what Boston College has gained from joining the ACC.

"What has it done for them?" Pitino said. "Syracuse and Pitt are risking everything and all these great traditions and for what?"

Pitt and Syracuse will say for security and stability.

SU coach Jim Boeheim told ESPN.com that his program would continue to play St. John's and Georgetown after the Orange move to the ACC. Pitino said there won't be room on UL's schedule to take on Syracuse and Pitt.

"It's not that I wouldn't play them, but we can't," he said. "There is no animosity. I don't blame them. But there's no reason for them to play us and no reason for us to play them."

Pitino said going to 15 teams in men's basketball is a much more palatable situation. He said he'd like to see 14 league games then two repeat teams to get up to 16 league games. Having a 17-team basketball conference would be a long-term nightmare, he added.

"We don't want any more basketball teams," Pitino said. "I feel very comfortable saying that we're going to be in the Big East. Now if you said to me two months ago that Syracuse and Pitt would leave the Big East, I never thought that.

"We have a great conference. If it stays at 15, then we could get eight or nine in the NCAA tournament. We just had 11 out of 16. We will still have one of the strongest conferences in the country."

Louisville will be one of the favorites in the Big East this season, along with Connecticut, Syracuse and Pitt. The latter two are on their way to the ACC and the first wouldn't mind going, too.

"I feel very comfortable today that Big East basketball will be fine," Pitino said. "I never thought a charter member like Syracuse would leave. We don't know what will happen, but my feeling is that we will continue to have a great conference."

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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