By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Bob Goin can see the Varsity Village construction from the window of his temporary office in the Edwards Center. He can envision what it will look like when it's finished in 2005.
What he doesn't know is whether the University of Cincinnati Bearcats will move into their new facilities as a member of Conference USA or as a new member of the Big East Conference.
"It's stressful," the UC athletic director said, "because you want to get it cleared up. Our job is to keep going on and doing what we're doing and see how it shakes out."
Goin would prefer to receive an invitation to the Big East. He emphasized that no such invitation has been forthcoming, nor would he say if UC would leave C-USA if the Big East does call.
But for the first time Thursday, he talked publicly about the advantages of belonging to the Big East should the opportunity arise.
"The indication is that there is serious interest in the University of Cincinnati," Goin said. "I can't say that we're in. I'll say that the option of being in, of having choices, is one that I'm hoping is going to take place."
UC officials likely will have to wait a while longer to find out if they'll have that Big East option as one of two replacements for Virginia Tech and Miami, which are leaving after this year for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
On Thursday, a source close to the Big East said it will be at least October before the league decides if it will split into two separate conferences - one for the schools with both football and basketball programs, the other for schools without football - or whether both factions will stay together under one conference umbrella.
After that decision is made, the league will begin to examine potential expansion candidates more closely. UC and Louisville have been mentioned most frequently as the two schools the league is interested in, although other schools are also being considered.
The source said the league is leaning toward staying together. Should that happen, it might reduce Xavier's chances of becoming part of the mix, which would leave the Musketeers, currently members of the Atlantic 10, to consider other options.
If the Big East schools decide to stay together, they would need only two basketball schools to reach their stated goal of a 16-team league. DePaul and Marquette, current members of C-USA, could have the inside track for those two berths because the Big East presidents are reluctant to have their expansion plans affect more than one conference.
UC's decision on whether to leave C-USA for the Big East - if it comes to that - would be made by the university president and the Board of Trustees, based on Goin's recommendation.
"My job is to lay out the plusses of a great conference in Conference USA, and the plusses of any other option we have," Goin said. "Hopefully, it will crystallize so that it's non-controversial."
One advantage is obvious.
"The major issue is geography," Goin said. "When you think about the relationship, Conference USA has given us great venues. We've won championships and we've been in bowl games. I'm not complaining about that. But if you look at the future, there would be a tremendous advantage in having neighbors close enough for traveling purposes.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Pitt, West Virginia, Louisville and Notre Dame are all within a bus trip. Any time you can cut expenses and put those revenues in other places, it's good business."
The Big East also would create new, attractive rivalries for UC, based more on geographical proximity than what the Bearcats currently have in Conference USA.
"You know if you had 20 years of playing Pitt home and away, you know the advantage of that," Goin said. "The same with West Virginia and Notre Dame. That, to me, is the issue. It's not a deficiency in Conference USA, it's an advantage in this."
"Officials from the Big East schools are very much aware of the city and what the university's background is, the comprehensive program we have and they're familiar with our construction program."
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