BIG EAST Five Schools To Join GU in Big East By Derek Richmond Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese

For the last six months, the collegiate athletic system has been more involved in a game of musical chairs than in basketball and football.

The music finally stopped Tuesday, and when it did, the Big East found itself sitting in an entirely new chair – one that it feels may be the best seat in the house.

Mike Tranghese, commissioner of the Big East conference – of which Georgetown is a member – announced that member schools had unanimously voted to invite five Conference USA schools into the fold. The programs have accepted the invitations, and beginning in the 2005-06 academic year.

University of Cincinnati, University of Louisville and the University of South Florida will join the conference in all sports and DePaul University and Marquette University will join the conference in all sports except football.

“Our participation in the Big East ensures that Georgetown’s athletic teams will continue to engage in strong competition and enjoy long-standing rivalries, provides opportunities to enhance existing programs at Georgetown and other member schools, and sustains the financial

resources that membership brings,” University President John J. DeGioia said in a broadcast e-mail notifying the university of his decision to invite the new member schools.

Georgetown was a founding member of the Big East and has been with the conference since its inception as a nine-team league in 1979.

The Atlantic Coast Conference raided the Big East this summer, carrying off the University of Miami and Virginia Tech. The final blow came last month when Boston College accepted an invitation to join the ACC, and the Big East was forced to confront the loss of the its top three football programs – which generate a sizeable portion of the Big East conference’s income.

Continuing the conference shuffle, the Big East entered into negotiations with Conference USA schools almost immediately, looking to replace the outgoing members. On the same day that the Big East announced its new members, Conference USA also announced that it had negotiated three teams away from the Western Athletic Conference and added two from the Mid-American Conference.

The loss of Miami costs the Big East its major football presence. Traditional football powerhouse Notre Dame, a Big East basketball member, has remained an independent football school. ost of the Big East member schools play football at the Division I-AA level, including Georgetown, a member of the Patriot League for football.

Tranghese said he remains confident that the Big East will continue to be one of the top six football conferences and will still receive an automatic Bowl Championship Series bowl bid.

“Our football group is solid. We think it has enormous potential, and we’re eager to begin competing,” he said, before adding that “on the basketball side . I never say we’re the best, but we’re clearly as good as anybody, any conference that’s ever been put together.”

For the Big East, Tranghese said the gains more than make up for the losses in terms of a basketball presence. The Big East has long been seen as a powerhouse basketball conference. Last season, four teams represented the Big East in the NCAA Tournament, including national champion Syracuse University. In the National Invitation Tournament, six teams represented the conference, and Big East members Georgetown and St. John’s met in the title game. All but two Big East teams found postseason berths last season.

The latest additions to the conference, Marquette, Cincinnati and Louisville, all received invitations to the NCAA Tournament last season, with Marquette advancing to the Final Four, while DePaul played in the NIT.

“It’s going to be a monster conference,” head women’s basketball coach Pat Knapp, said. “All of these teams are going to get a hell of a lot better.”

Of the 16 schools that will comprise the Big East when the 2005-06 season rolls around, only South Florida has never been to the Final Four.

“Our problem is we are going to have so many good teams, they’ll beat up on one another,” Knapp said. “Nice problems to have.”

University officials expect the expansion to benefit Georgetown athletic recruitment. Extending the Big East to new markets such as Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati and Milwaukee will open new recruiting options for the conference, according to Bill Shapland, senior sports communications director for Georgetown’s athletic department.

Georgetown is expected to profit from the expansion, as basketball is the university’s biggest revenue-generating sport.

“The benefits that the university is going to get are financial resources, a stronger competitive rivalry within the conference, and the ability to enhance some of our athletic programs through recruiting by virtue of being in a stronger conference,” said Laura Cavender, director of media relations for Georgetown.

The Big East also has television contracts with ESPN, CBS, ABC and a newly-signed agreement with College Sports Television. Three New York schools, as well as representation in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, assure the Big East a great deal of network coverage. With the addition of the five newest conference members, the Big East will be available to more than 25 percent of the television households in the United States.

“ESPN formed the year that we formed,” Tranghese said of renegotiating the conference’s contract. “We started together; we’ve been partners for 25 years. As soon as we get our house in order, in about a week’s time, we’ll probably begin talking to them about both basketball and football.”

As the Big East enters what Tranghese calls its “third phase,” he said he is optimistic about the future of the conference. The BIG EAST started its first phase on May 31, 1979, as Providence College, St. John’s, Georgetown and Syracuse Universities. Seton Hall, Connecticut and Boston College completed the original seven-school basketball conference. Villanova and Pittsburgh joined in the early ’80s, and Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia and Notre Dame all became members by the mid-’90s. In 1990 Big East football was introduced and it entered its current phase.

Tranghese recognized several of the difficulties involved in the restructuring and addition of two teams, but called them “details that we’ll tend to when we have to.” At the top of his list are the issues of how the league will be split up and how many conference games each team will play. According to Tranghese, the league officials have not yet set a timetable for solving these problems, though he said that such questions will be answered long before the new teams officially enter the conference.

Shapland concurred with Tranghese’s assessment. “As time goes on and people begin to understand some of the ramifications and see how great the basketball conference is going to be, and start figuring out how they’re going to divide the conference of 16 . I think that there are further comments that will come.”

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