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Tranghese's Next Mandate? Turn Potential Into Top


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From the Hartford Courant:

Tranghese's Next Mandate? Turn Potential Into Top 10

November 5, 2003

NEW YORK - The basketball is going to be good, really good, oh baby, better than really good. The Big East arguably will be the strongest basketball conference in history, UConn president Phil Austin said, and those are the careful words of an academician.

Bob Huggins is coming with Cincinnati. Rick Pitino is bringing Louisville to the dance. Marquette went to the Final Four last spring and DePaul has a strong Chicago tradition. Add them to national champion Syracuse, preseason No. 1 UConn and an already powerful conference and, well ... get your tickets for the 2006 Big East tournament soon, commissioner Mike Tranghese announced Tuesday, because those tickets are going to be hot, hot, hot.

Heck, you could line up the 16 schools, make an NCAA East Region bracket out of them and call it basketball legend. Just hearing Jim Calhoun say "Cinci-notty" with his Boston accent 15 times a winter is worth the price of the Bearcats' admission.

And, oh, we almost forgot. What about Big East football?

"Great potential," UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway said.

"Enormous potential," Tranghese said.

"Some of it just has to be faith," Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel said.

There was a buzzword spiraling through Ballroom A of the Grand Hyatt as the Big East announced the addition of five new members, three for college's minted autumn game. Yep, the "could be" word. The dictionary defines it as latent excellence that may or may not be developed. Big East football: File it under potential. File it under faith.

"We've never felt better about the future of the Big East," Villanova president Rev. Edmund Dobbin said.

Go ahead and doubt us again, Tranghese seemed to dare. In 1979 when the Big East was formed, he said, "People weren't applauding us. They said this is going to be a nice group. It became more than a nice group. It became the footprint of Eastern college basketball." And in 1990 when football was added, Tranghese said, "there weren't a lot of people saying a lot of positive things."

The Big East pulled out hoops, hope and media market figures (22.06 percent of the nation's TV households fall within the new basketball conference) to demonstrate why the new configuration starting in 2005-2006 is going to work swell. And after all the conference endured with Miami, Virginia Tech and Benedict Arnold College of Chestnut Hill bolting for the ACC, only a curmudgeon would deny the Big East its historic day.

The Big East survived. The Big East gets the Purple Heart. The Big East got stabbed in its most vulnerable area, patched up as best as could be expected and is moving on wearing a giant Conference USA bandage. The Big East cooperated well enough with the C-USA to take five of its schools and, unlike the ACC, avoided being taken to court as buccaneers of high education. C-USA turned around and went after WAC schools and the dominoes fell rather orderly. The Big East started out saving football and ended up with the greatest basketball conference in history. Somewhere Looie and John and Rollie are laughing.

"Football is the reason three schools were added," Crouthamel said. "Cincinnati and Louisville play very good basketball, but that's a coincidence. A very good coincidence."

Over and over again, the men in Ballroom A said the new Big East isn't built for tomorrow or next year, it's built for 10 years, 20 years down the road. Over and over again, they said the conference presidents have bonded as they had never before. All of this sentiment is valid. None of it proves Big East football will remain a big-time player.

All we can say to Tranghese is prove it again. Make potential a reality. He is confident that no matter what happens with the BCS, his conference will remain in the mix. Turn confidence into BCS millions. The presidents are confident they made the correct choice to bring an unwieldy 16-team conference into the future. Prove not splitting is the right choice.

Hathaway talked about how Virginia Tech was brought into the Big East after a 2-9 season and developed into one of best football programs in the nation by leveraging the Big East brand. To Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati and UConn, come anywhere close to duplicating the Hokies. To Pitt, Syracuse and the others, it's time to step up. If 20-year history is the guide, there isn't a surefire top 20 franchise to be found. Football is where the money is, where long-term survival is, and the conference badly needs a top 10 cornerstone to emerge and a top 15 school to follow.

"Today will not satisfy everyone," Crouthamel said. "To satisfy everyone, Notre Dame and Penn State would have had to join the football conference. And we all know neither is going to happen nor will ever happen."

The athletic directors had recommended a split into two leagues, but Crouthamel said that was before they met with the presidents. Many of them had gone through the process together of admitting Rutgers and West Virginia in 1994 and there was "a tremendous sensitivity" on the part of the I-A football presidents toward the non I-A presidents.

"If we had just up and left, they would not have been in very good position at all," Crouthamel said. "Disruptive to the point of destructive. In order to give them the opportunity to exist, if you will, and to grow we really had to expand on both sides. They would have lost their automatic qualification as a conference for the NCAA Tournament for five years or longer. Our presidents were not prepared to stab them in the back."

Crouthamel said he walked into a discussion about configuring the basketball divisions into football and non-football schools and exclaimed, "What the hell are you doing?"

"We wouldn't need a constitution. All we need is a dissolution clause," he said. "We're not looking to create a model to fail. And I don't want to play five years [the length of the new deal] and split. I don't think anybody else does either."

So the football schools threw the Catholic basketball schools a lifeline, something that must have touched Dave Gavitt's and Tranghese's soul.

"What we have done impacts Conference USA, which is having an impact on three or four other conferences," Austin said. "There are congressional hearings regarding the politics and legalities of the BCS. All this restructuring calls into question the future of the NCAA. It's all out there and each time we reach a precarious equilibrium the whole world changes. What does it all mean? I can only come back to the fact we have the best basketball conference in the country."

The rest is potential.

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How many teams is it physically possible to get in the top 10 from one conference, considering that they will have to beat up on each other... 3? 4?  more?

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