Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Miami bolts, leaves Big East vacuum


XU, UC could fit into revamped league

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Miami joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, completing the first and most important step of major conference realignment this summer.

Miami, along with Virginia Tech, will begin playing in the ACC at the start of the 2004-05 season.

The rest of this summer, as well as fall and spring, will be spent figuring out what is next for everyone else, including Xavier University, of the Atlantic 10, and the University of Cincinnati, of Conference USA.

The Big East, spurned by the Hurricanes, must now go forward with its own expansion plan in order to keep playing Division I football. But the conference is not in any hurry to add new members.

A new configuration will not occur until the 2005-06 season, which means the deadline for a final decision is a full year away.

"Schools are anxious," Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese said during a conference call interview Monday. "But we're not going to solve this problem by the weekend. We're going to take our time and go forward in a reasonable matter."

Tranghese said the Big East will use a markedly different approach in issuing invitations compared to the ACC, which contacted individual schools before notifying the Big East.

"I've already talked to (A-10 commissioner) Linda Bruno and (C-USA commissioner) Britton Bannowsky," Tranghese said. "We're talking about a process, and I've given them both my word that they won't be blindsided. When we arrive at a decision, we will share it with them before we approach schools."

Although Tranghese said there is no rush to add members, possible outlines of the new Big East are starting to come into focus.

The favored configuration at this point is for the remaining Big East members to add four programs.

Two programs would compete in both football and basketball; two would compete in just basketball.

The end result would be a two-division, 16-team conference. Temple will be dropped as a football-only member after the 2004-'05 season.

Xavier, along with Marquette, Dayton and DePaul, is one of the most attractive basketball-only programs in the nation.

In the football/basketball category, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Central Florida or Marshall are possible choices.

Louisville, however, may be a target of the ACC, which, under current guidelines, needs a 12th team to stage a championship football game.

If the NCAA does not reduce or remove that rule, the C-USA Cardinals will find themselves in a tug-of-war between the Big East and the ACC next spring, a battle the ACC would surely win.

Tranghese declined to name any possible candidates for expansion, and said there have been no formal discussions.

He also warned that a 16-team league is very large and would be difficult to keep together.

"More numbers is always harder," Tranghese said. "I don't know if we'll get there. It's a concept, but 16 is a lot of teams. It's easy to say, but tough to manage."

What happens next?

Miami's decision to join the ACC will have a ripple effect across college conferences, especially the Big East.

Question: What is the Big East's timetable to expand?

Answer: Don't expect a new configuration until 2005-'06.

Q: What will a reconfigured Big East look like?

A: Early indications suggest the conference would be divided into two sections: eight schools in a basketball-only division; eight in a basketball/football division.

Q: Where do Xavier and UC fit in?

A: Xavier has a strong basketball program, and could fit into the basketball-only division. UC has competitive basketball and football programs, and could fit into that division.

But Big East officials say no expansion discussions have been held.

Q: Is the ACC finished expanding?

A: It might seek a 12th member so it can hold a championship game in football. Louisville has been mentioned.

Alignment scenario

The Big East is beginning expansion discussions that likely will continue for several months. Here is an oft-mentioned 16-team alignment, and how it might look.

Basketball-only division
Seton Hall
Villanova
Georgetown
St. John's
Providence
Notre Dame
Marquette*
Xavier*
*Spots could also be occupied by DePaul or Dayton.

Football/Basketball division
Syracuse
Boston College
West Virginia
Pittsburgh
Rutgers
Connecticut
Louisville*
Cincinnati*
*Spots could also be occupied by Central Florida, South Florida, Marshall or Temple.

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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