|Tuesday, November 4
Updated: November 7, 5:24 PM ET
Rebuilt Big East benefits on basketball side
NEW YORK -- The Big East, stung by the impending departure of three key members to the Atlantic Coast Conference, responded Tuesday by luring five schools from Conference USA.
Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida accepted invitations to join the Big East in all sports. DePaul and Marquette, which do not have football teams, will join the conference in all other sports.
The Big East suffered a serious blow over the summer when Miami and Virginia Tech voted to leave and join the ACC after the current academic year ends. Boston College voted last month to leave for the ACC, but that move might not take place until 2006.
"The ACC had a choice. We had no choice," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "We didn't force people to do this. People wanted to do this. We probably could have [taken more schools]."
The departure left the Big East in a precarious position, but the league needed just a few months to respond and chart its future course, even if it weakened another league.
"The addition of five highly-competitive institutions today ensures that the Big East will remain one of the nation's premier athletic conferences," said Villanova president Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, the chairman of the Big East presidents.
Anticipating the departure of several key members, Conference USA immediately announced the five schools that will replace those leaving for the Big East.
Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa of the Western Athletic Conference and Marshall and Central Florida of the Mid-American Conference will join Conference USA beginning in 2005.
The departure of three key members to the ACC had its roots in football. Miami and Virginia Tech have combined to compete in three of the last four national championship games while Boston College was added by the ACC in order to reach the 12 members needed to host a conference championship game.
The Big East struck back by adding several basketball powers. Louisville, under Rick Pitino, and Cincinnati, under Bob Huggins, have two of the higher-profile programs in the country.
Marquette reached the Final Four last year and DePaul has a rich tradition dating to Ray Meyer, who coached the Blue Demons from 1948 to 1984.
Those newcomers join a basketball league that includes defending national champion Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which has reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament the last two years.
In addition, current members Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova all have notable basketball programs.
As for football, it is uncertain if the revamped Big East will be strong enough to retain its automatic bid in the Bowl Championship series when the current contract expires after the 2005 season.
"I'm confident we will be there for a variety of reasons," Tranghese said. "There is a lot of tradition here and we compete in a tremendous sector in the Northeast."
Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia are the most prominent football programs following the departure of Miami and Virginia Tech. The Big East has voted out Temple after next season and will add Connecticut in football in 2004.
"We do feel that we are moving forward. There is great tradition here," Pittsburgh president Mark Nordenberg said. "We do think the three schools joining for football really have tremendous potential."
The expansion of the Big East has been rumored for weeks and Conference USA already has been planning for the departure of several schools.
Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa have said they would leave the Western Athletic Conference and sign membership agreements with Conference USA. Marshall, a member of the Mid-American Conference, also has started the process of seeking membership in C-USA.
"Conference USA saw this as an opportunity to reconfigure itself as a pure 1-A southern-based football conference," Tranghese said.
The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that Texas Christian, one of two remaining unbeaten schools in football, is considering leaving C-USA for the Mountain West Conference.