The latest dagger in the back of the Big East was officially delivered last Saturday when the seven Catholic, non-FBS schools – DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova – announced that they will be next to abandon the conference.
This will bring the total to 13 schools that have decided to bolt from the Big East in roughly the last 15 months. Here are the thoughts of UConn coach Geno Auriemma on the latest departures …
“I think everybody has their own ideas,’’ Auriemma said. “Everybody has their own theories. Everybody wants to live in a nostalgic world. What does Garrison Keillor say? `All the women are strong, the men are good looking and all the children are above average.’ Lake Wobegon. Everybody wants to live in that world where the nine original Big East schools live and play against each other forever. And I think as it started happening and football became the driving vehicle, you’re either at the big boy table playing poker or you’re not.
“I think the Catholic schools did a really good thing. They stayed at the table as long as they could make as much money as they could, and then when they saw that the money was running out, they decided, `Let’s go play somewhere else.’ And had they voted appropriately, some of them, in the last 10 years, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in. So they did what was best for them, just like a lot of Catholic schools do. And a lot of people always used to always the state schools are the big bad guys, and we certainly had our share of that in our conference. And at this point in time, they probably felt like this is the best time for us to make our move.’’
Per Big East bylaws, the Catholic schools are required to remain affiliated with the conference until June 30, 2015. Auriemma is hoping that they leave much sooner than that.
“I hope they leave tomorrow, but they can’t because we have to play out the schedule,’’ Auriemma said. “But I hope as soon as the season’s over they go and do what they need to do just like everybody else. Just like Syracuse. Just like West Virginia did. I think West Virginia did it the right way. `I don’t want to be in this conference any more. I’m leaving. See you. What do I owe you? I’m out of here.’ And I hope everybody takes that approach. Whether or not that’s going to happen, I don’t know.
The loss of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova will not mean much when it comes to the level of competition on UConn’s schedule. The Huskies are a combined 198-34 (.853) in 27-plus seasons under Auriemma. And since the start of the 1994-95 season, they are 139-3 (.979), losing to Villanova March 11, 2003 and Feb. 28, 2004 and to St. John’s Feb. 18, 2012 during this stretch.
UConn has currently won 28 straight games against Seton Hall, 27 straight against Georgetown and Providence and 28 of 29 against St. John’s. The Huskies have also won nine straight against Villanova and are undefeated against DePaul (9-0) and Marquette (7-0).
“Our job here at Connecticut is to have the best basketball program in the country,’’ Auriemma said. “And I think department-wise it is to have the best athletic department in the country. Fifteen years ago or whenever it was we played in Minneapolis in the Final Four, we were called the University of Connecticut, and we played in the Big Least Conference. That Connecticut was the only good school in the league and that all the other conference schools were terrible. And I think we may have gotten like two teams in the NCAA tournament or something like that. And then 15 years later, we got nine and we were recognized as the best conference in the country. Well that’s over. It’s gone. So maybe it’s time for us to build another conference, just like we built the Big East.
“So the new Big East … We’re going to create the best women’s basketball conference in the country if we can. That’s my goal right now.’’