From the Providence Journal
Feb, 24, 2005
Men's basketball: PC nearly lost its spot in Big East
Conference documents show discussions in 2003 led by the Division I-A (or football) schools to exercise a split with the basketball schools once Miami and Virginia Tech accepted invitations to join the ACC.
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, February 24, 2005
BY KEVIN McNAMARA
Journal Sports Writer
PROVIDENCE -- Fans at Providence College and the other basketball-only Big East schools may never know just how close their schools came to being booted out of the conference in the fall of 2003.
Internal Big East documents that appeared on the Internet this week disclosed some of the discussions led by the Division I-A (or football) schools to exercise a split with the basketball schools once Miami and Virginia Tech accepted invitations to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The documents, which Big East officials confirmed yesterday were authentic, are the minutes of meetings held in July and October of 2003. The documents are included in two ongoing legal battles, one between the conference and Boston College and another pitting four Big East football schools against Miami and the ACC.
While the conference ultimately agreed to expand to a 16-school hybrid league by adding Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida as full members and DePaul and Marquette for all sports except football, the meeting minutes show just how chaotic, and fluid, the Big East's membership problems were at that time.
A July 9, 2003 meeting came two weeks after Miami and Virginia Tech had accepted offers to leave for the ACC. BC and Syracuse were surprisingly bypassed by the ACC in favor of the Hokies and left to rebuild a badly damaged Big East football conference.
Presidents and athletic directors of the six remaining football schools (BC, UConn, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia) came to a quick consensus to split from basketball partners Providence, Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova. Among the bombshells dropped at the meeting:
Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel, one of the founders of the conference, stated that if the group decided to expand to a 16-school, football-basketball conglomerate, he'd resign his position at SU. BC athletics boss Gene DeFilippo "echoes those sentiments," according to the meeting's minutes.
Syracuse chancellor Kenneth "Buzz" Shaw asked the ADs whether there was any support for a 16-team conference. There was none, so the group voted, 6-0, to pursue expansion to form an eight- or nine-school all-sports conference.
The group drafted language for any breakup discussions that read: "We as a group genuinely believe that the breakup of the Big East Conference is inevitable -- and probably the best overall scenario for all parties concerned. Toward that end, we would suggest that a small group of football representatives meet with a small group of basketball representatives in order to discuss the possible fallout issues associated with this. We are prepared to do what we can to minimize the negative impact that this breakup will have on your group."
Commissioner Mike Tranghese explained that if the conference were dissolved and the basketball side was left with just five schools, they would lose their automatic bids to NCAA tournaments in all sports. Tranghese then said he "cannot continue effectively as commissioner" with either side because he'd be compromised by both groups. He added that he'd work for two more years as the parties executed their split.
The football schools hoped to resolve negotiations with their basketball partners by Sept. 15 and quickly look to add new schools.
However, there clearly was a major change of heart during the negotiations. When the Big East's presidents met to discuss the future, it became clear that a split would adversely affect the basketball schools.
NCAA rules say that in order to be a viable conference, six schools must be together for at least five years. With Notre Dame uncommitted to either side, there were only five basketball schools, and they stood to lose millions of dollars in NCAA basketball tournament units if no longer aligned with the Big East.
Notre Dame's role was vitally important. Since the football schools outnumbered the basketball schools (6-5), Notre Dame served as the critical swing vote in deciding the majority. The Irish clearly preferred to maintain their football independence and remain in an all-sports conference with extensive East Coast roots, and essentially voted to block any split.
On Nov. 5, the Big East announced its expansion plans at a press conference in New York. Syracuse's Crouthamel, who will retire in June, said then that the football schools weren't ready to harm the basketball schools like they had been hurt by the ACC's actions.
"If we had just up and left, it would've been disruptive to the point of destructive," he said. "In order to give them the opportunity to exist, if you will, and to grow, we had to expand on both sides. Our presidents were not prepared to stab them in the back the way some of the rest of us had been stabbed in the back."
The 16-school Big East begins play next fall. The group has amended the conference's constitution and agreed to withdrawal and dissolution clauses that allow the group to break up with no penalty after five years. Anyone that leaves before five years is subject to a $5-million withdrawal penalty and must wait 27 months before departing.