Big East Rebirth at Hand

College SportsCollege BasketballCollege FootballSportsBasketballBig East ConferenceDePaul Blue Demons

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese remembers celebrating on an April night in Atlanta after UConn won the national championship in women's basketball. It was his third celebration in less than a week, following the NIT title won by St. John's and NCAA men's championship won by Syracuse.

"I said to [former UConn men's coach] Dee Rowe, `I've been here 11 years as commissioner, and right now things are better than they've ever been. I've never felt better. People are getting along great, and we're competing at a high level,'" Tranghese said. "Eight days later, the world exploded. ... Is it going away? No, I think it is part of the fabric now."

That thread running through college athletics and causing so many restless nights is conference realignment. The celebrating stopped when Tranghese discovered the Atlantic Coast Conference was targeting Miami and two other Big East schools for expansion. A summer of satisfaction and pride was replaced by tension and hostility.

"I couldn't adequately describe my feelings [toward the ACC] -- you can trust me on that," Tranghese said last week. "I was raised and taught to do things in a specific way. I just disagree with the way things happened. And that's never going to change."

After losing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the ACC, the Big East has been scrambling to remodel itself. Today Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, DePaul and Marquette will be introduced as the conference's newest members. The five Conference USA schools will join in 2005-06, forming a 16-team basketball conference and an eight-team football conference.

The Big East will hold a press conference today , following the annual meeting of school presidents and athletic directors at a Manhattan hotel. The meeting is a formality. Sources said presidents of the 11 remaining schools approved the plan last week. Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida will become full members, participating in all sports. DePaul and Marquette will join in all sports except football.

The Big East's work is far from over. Divisional alignment for the basketball conference isn't expected to be part of today's announcement, and the possibility of adding a ninth team to the football conference has been temporarily tabled, sources said. Central Florida, Army and Navy are under consideration for that spot, a move that would create a balanced schedule.

Conference sources have confirmed all 16 members have agreed to a minimum five-year commitment. That will allow the football schools and basketball schools to reassess their positions after the 2009- 10 season. If a split takes place at that time, both new conferences would retain their automatic NCAA Tournament bids and tournament revenue-sharing units.

Early in the negotiations, a split seemed inevitable.

"I'd like to take credit for [the unity], but I had nothing to do with it," Tranghese said. "In the past six months, our presidents have spent more time with the daily athletic events in this league than they probably did in the previous 24 1/2 years. They feel good. And it will work."

Conference USA is expected to respond quickly to its losses, adding Marshall, Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa. Tranghese has worked closely with C-USA commissioner Britton Bankowsky and other commissioners throughout the process.

"The commissioners have worked very collegially to make this very palatable," DePaul AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto told the Chicago Tribune. The Western Athletic Conference is expected to add Utah State and New Mexico State from the Sun Belt, after losing Rice, Tulsa and SMU.

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