The Big East as we once knew it has officially been put to rest. The dawn of the American Athletic Conference took place at midnight.
There is much change. The Catholic 7 (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova) have broken off to form another version of the Big East. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse have joined the ACC. Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU and Temple have come aboard in all sports.
Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will stick around one more year before jetting to their new home.
Yet, there is also continuity. The conference office remains 15 Park Row West in downtown Providence. Mike Aresco remains the commissioner. Cincinnati, UConn and South Florida remain in place as member institutions.
And through it all, the staff is upbeat in the face of change. Here is a look The American’s first PSA …
“It’s incredible to be in the heart of the continued evolution of the college landscape, especially with our reinvented league titled The American Athletic Conference,’’ AAC Assistant Director of Broadcast Scheduling Michael Coyne said. “I’m thankful for seven years under the Big East banner and will always cherish the friendships and memories of those exciting times. As we move forward as The American, the league will be as successful as the membership and strive to be a challenger to all opponents. It is a new day in college athletics!’’
UConn won eight women’s basketball national championships, made 14 Final Four appearances, won 19 Big East regular season championships and 18 Big East tournament championships since joining the conference in 1982-83.
Overall, the Huskies were a combined 402-61 (.868) with nine undefeated regular seasons in the Big East in 28 seasons under Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma.
The demolition of the Big East might have been difficult to absorb while it was happening, but Auriemma was pleased by what he experienced at the inaugural American Athletic Conference meetings in Ponte Vedra, Fla. in May.
“I thought it was great,’’ Auriemma said. “It’s amazing … When you only have 10 people in the room it’s a lot easier to get things done then when you had 16. So what used to take us three days took us about two hours to talk about, `OK, how are we going to do this? How are we going to do that?’ Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. `Everybody agree? Everybody raise their hand. Boom. Done. Let’s move on to the next thing.’ Whereas before it was three hours to talk about, `What time are we meeting tomorrow, 8 or 8:30?’ That was a two-hour meeting. And everyone seems to be going in the right direction because everybody’s got the same interest at heart. Every school in the room their football team’s trying to win the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl, and that wasn’t the case before. So there’s real commonality among all the schools.’’
The Big East placed a conference-record nine teams in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in 2010-11 and eight in each of the past two seasons. Looking back, UConn and Seton Hall were the only conference representatives to make the field in 1995 when the Huskies won their first national championship.
The American is hardly a national power in the sport right now. However, Auriemma is optimistic that it will grow over time just like the Big East.
“In 1995 when we won a national championship I think there were two Big East teams in the NCAA tournament,’’ Auriemma said. “People will look back and say, `No way?’ Well, I don’t think I’m wrong. I think there was two teams from the Big East in the NCAA tournament in 1995. And two years ago we had nine. What happened? Everybody decided, `Let’s get better.’ So the same thing can happen again. There’s a lot of schools with a lot of resources in our league. And, again, if there’s a commitment then there’s no doubt in my mind that they can all get better and our league will be great. How many are we going to get (in the NCAA tournament) now? I don’t know. That remains to be seen. But, at the same time, we have a great opportunity and we should take advantage of it.’’