The Big East Conference is a collegiate athletics conference consisting of thirteen universities, mostly in the northeastern United States:
About The League
The Big East was founded in 1979 when Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, and Syracuse invited Seton Hall, Connecticut, and Boston College to form a conference. The league is fairly old compared to most of the 30-odd NCAA Division I conferences, but not compared to the 100-year old Big Ten or Ivy League. 5 of the founding 7 schools are Catholic schools (Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Seton Hall, and Boston College). With the additions of Notre Dame and Villanova, and the planned additions of Marquette and DePaul (and loss of Boston College), the Big East represents the majority of the large, athletically competitive Catholic schools. The Big East is also arguably the most academically rigorous of the athletically competitive conferences.
All of its basketball members are Division I schools. The divide between Division I-A and I-AA exists only in football. All football members of the conference participate in Division I-A. Notre Dame maintains its status as a Division I-A independent in football, while Georgetown and Villanova have Division I-AA football programs.
Member schools participate in baseball, men's and women's basketball, cross country, field hockey, football, golf, lacrosse, women's rowing, men's and women's soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, indoor and outdoor track, and volleyball.
The seven founding schools (Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Syracuse, Seton Hall, UConn, and Boston College) brought the conference to reality in 1979, where it existed primarily as a basketball conference. Villanova joined the following year, followed by Pittsburgh in 1982. 1985 was the conference's high_water mark with respect to basketball, as three teams (Villanova, St. John's, and Georgetown) all advanced to the Final Four, culminating in Villanova's stunning victory over the Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas, considered one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. Until the retirement of coach John Thompson, Georgetown was one of the primary powers in the conference, led by Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Allen Iverson. Jim Boeheim has coached Syracuse to three Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2003 with the help of freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony.
More recently, basketball in the Big East has been dominated by UConn. The men's program, coached by Jim Calhoun and led by such stars as Khalid El-Amin, Rip Hamilton, Donyell Marshall, and Emeka Okafor has averaged nearly 26 wins a year over the last fifteen seasons and won championships in 1999 and 2004. Not to be outdone, coach Geno Auriemma has led the women's team to five national championships (including four in the last five years) and two undefeated seasons (1995 and 2002). Three of the first five players taken in the 2003 WNBA draft were from UConn, as was top 2004 pick Diana Taurasi. Under the strength of the UConn program, and to a lesser extent Boston College and 2001 national champion Notre Dame, the Big East has emerged as one of the major powers in women's college basketball.
Big East Conference Basketball Tournament Champions By Year
Starting with the 1991-1992 academic year, the Big East began playing football, and obtained immediate legitimacy as a football conference with the addition of the powerhouse Miami program. The same eight teams competed in the league from its inception until Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC and UConn joined the Big East football league, all in 2004. Major realignment will occur in 2005.
The Big East has had two teams play for national championships during its short existence. Miami won seven of the league's first thirteen championships (though 1991 and 1992 were selected by polls, as round-robin play did not begin until 1993) and won national championships in 1991 and 2001, dominating the league at the beginning and end of its run and suffering from NCAA sanctions in the middle years. Virginia Tech may have benefited the most of any team from Big East affiliation; head coach Frank Beamer developed that program from a perennial independent also-ran into a 1995 and 1996 conference champion, then led the team to an undefeated regular season in 1999 with freshman quarterback Michael Vick. Tech appeared in the 2000 Sugar Bowl BCS championship game, where they were defeated 46-29 by Florida State.
Of the six charter members continuing in the conference, four of them have finished first in the league, although two of them did not share in a league title until 2004. Syracuse's Donovan McNabb led the team to back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998, and West Virginia took the crown with an 11-1 record in 1993. In 2004, there was a four-way tie for the league title between Pittsburgh, WVU, Syracuse, and departing Boston College; Pittsburgh won the tiebreaker to earn the league's BCS bid. BC saw its program collapse after a gambling scandal, but won bowl games in its last five years in the Big East and has been dubbed O-Line-U for its propensity to send offensive linemen to the NFL. Since 1993, neither Temple or Rutgers has finished higher than sixth, which along with low attendance led to the Big East's decision to expel Temple from the conference in 2005.
Big East Football Champions By Year
- 1991 Miami (FL) (2-0) & Syracuse (5-0)
- 1992 Miami (FL) (4-0)
- 1993 West Virginia (7-0)
- 1994 Miami (FL) (7-0)
- 1995 Virginia Tech (6-1) & Miami (FL) (6-1)
- 1996 Virginia Tech (6-1), Miami (FL) (6-1) & Syracuse (6-1)
- 1997 Syracuse (6-1)
- 1998 Syracuse (6-1)
- 1999 Virginia Tech (7-0)
- 2000 Miami (FL) (7-0)
- 2001 Miami (FL) (7-0)
- 2002 Miami (FL) (7-0)
- 2003 West Virginia (6-1) & Miami (FL) (6-1)
- 2004 Pittsburgh (earned BCS bid), Boston College, West Virginia, & Syracuse (all 4-2)
In 2003 the Big East was put on watch as the ACC announced plans to expand from nine teams to twelve. Miami, Syracuse, and Boston College were rumored to be the three schools under consideration, and all three met with officials from the ACC regarding membership. In response, the "remaining" football schools in the Big East (UConn, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia) filed suit against the ACC, Miami, and Boston College for conspiring to weaken the conference. Syracuse was not named as a defendant in part because they never made public comments about the ongoing situation.
In an unexpected turn, due in large measure to significant political wrangling in Virginia, the ACC extended invitations only to Miami and Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech immediately dropped their lawsuit and accepted the invitation. The remaining four plantiffs removed Boston College from the list of defendants and asked B.C. to join their suit. Boston College declined.
Several months later, in part because the NCAA denied their request to hold a conference title game in football without the requisite 12 teams, the ACC extended an invitation for Boston College to become the twelfth team in the Big East. When B.C. accepted, they were immediately sued by several member schools from the Big East, most notably UConn, and in return countersued to avoid paying the "exit fee" that had been amended to the Big East's constitution. Boston College won both decisions and will join the ACC in 2005.
In response to losing their two marquee football programs and one of their largest markets, the Big East extended invitations to five schools from Conference USA in order to replenish their football ranks and to create a 16-team basketball superconference. The schools leaving Conference USA for the Big East are:
The fallout from the Conference USA realignment instigated a chain reaction of conference realignments that affected the WAC, MAC, Sun Belt, and Mountain West Conferences. At the same time, the UConn Huskies completed their leap to Division I-A football and became a full member of the conference in 2004, resulting in their first-ever bowl bid.