Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese credited Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg for saving the Big East Conference in 2003 after Boston College, Miami and Virginia left for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Nordenberg was the driving force behind the conference reconstituting itself by adding Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul.
Many questioned at the time why Marquette and DePaul were added as basketball-only members when football was what mattered most in conference expansion. Thursday afternoon, hours after it was reported that the seven catholic schools in the Big East decided to form their own their own basketball league, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon provided some insight about why Nordenberg was so insistent on Marquette and DePaul being included.
"When [Nordenberg] fought to keep that league together one of the components was adding DePaul and Marquette," Dixon said Thursday. "People asked why DePaul and Marquette when you need to add football teams. But the reality was that was done for today. That was done so Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's Seton Hall and Providence wouldn't be left without a conference.
"When [Marquette and DePaul] came in, it gave them seven teams. And once they stayed together for five years, they could keep the bid, keep the name and keep the money, all those things."
Adding two basketball-only playing schools and remaining together for five years were prerequisites for those schools maintaining their automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
No one knew how long the arrangement would work for the parties involved, but Dixon believes Nordenberg's efforts allowed Pitt and other schools in the conference to remain profitable for far longer than many had predicted.
"Ten years later, I think it worked," Dixon said. "I think it worked better than what maybe they thought. Football schools were getting value out of the basketball-only schools and the basketball-only schools were getting value out of the football schools."
That began to change in recent years as college football TV revenue dictated more movement in conference realignment. Pitt and Syracuse jumped to the Atlantic Coast Conference last September. Notre Dame moved to the ACC in all sports except football and ice hockey earlier this fall. In recent weeks, Rutgers announced it was leaving for the Big Ten and Louisville was joining the ACC.
"The TV contracts got bigger and bigger, and, quite honestly, football became the selling point in the conference contracts because that's where the money is made," Dixon said. "It's not made in the NCAA [men's basketball] tournament because that money goes to the NCAA. That can't be divided up proportionately.
"That was put in place by chancellor [Nordenberg] and a couple of other presidents who were really on top of it and foresaw what was going to happen. They had a pretty good vision, chancellor [Nordenberg] specifically, because he was for adding [Marquette and DePaul].
"Those schools are in a pretty good position right now. They feel right now that they have some equity, they have exit fees coming to them. They have the bid and their name. They feel they can go poach some other teams and continue on and be in that position. When it's all said and done, they'll end up in a pretty good situation."
The seven schools that don't play Division I-A football are St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova and their proposed and unnamed new conference will include Xavier and Butler, both of whom now play in the Atlantic 10.
The current Big East football membership includes only four schools -- South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati, Temple -- that are committed to the league beyond 2013. But there are 11 schools with plans to join the Big East in the next three years, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only in 2013.
What will happen to current and future football members is unknown. They could stick together. But, if the basketball side of the Big East is weakened, it could decrease the value of the conference to TV networks. The league currently is trying to negotiate a crucial TV contract, but instability has made it impossible.
Pitt was going to be competing in its final Big East regular season and tournament no matter what this season, but the news Thursday made certain that the tournament at Madison Square Garden in March will be the final one as fans and competitors have come to know it over the past quarter century.
"It's always been special," Dixon said. "It's always been a great event. It's sad in some ways. I think it will be exciting to be there. It will be talked about. It was a great tournament, a great conference. It made our program."mobilehome - pittsports
The Associated Press contributed to the story. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.