Big East Discussing Change

Notre Dame has been the top team in the Big East Conference the past three years, running roughshod over some of its West Division foes. Will that be changing in 2003-04? The Big East is discussing a return to a single-division conference with all teams facing each other at least once. IrishEyes Managing Editor has the report and also reports on Mike Brey's "interest" in UCLA.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

February 20, 2003

Big East Exploring
One Division Format

By Alan Tieuli
 IrishEyes Magazine

Hope you enjoy watching Virginia Tech versus Notre Dame on Saturday.  There's a possibility you'll be seeing that match-up every year. 

In his weekly media conference call Thursday, Irish head coach Mike Brey acknowledged that talk has reached his desk about the Big East Conference abolishing its two divisions and going to one division where all 14 Big East members would play each other during the regular season at least once. 

"With us not playing Virginia Tech in two years, and them being in the other division, this feels like a non-conference game a little this weekend," Brey said. "But with the talk of not being divisions anymore, you worry about them becoming really good." 

The Big East has had two seven-team divisions the past three seasons and Notre Dame has thrived in the format.  The Irish conference record during that span is 29-14 (.674).   No squad in the Big East has won more games during this stretch.  Brey's team won the West Division title in 2001, second in 2002, and is tied in the loss column for first this season. 

The Irish have fattened up their division record by feasting on West Virginia (6-0) the past three years, while also holding a significant edge over Pittsburgh (5-1) and Rutgers (4-1).  But if the current conversations come to fruition, Notre Dame might face each of those teams just once, instead of home-and-home,  in 2003-04. 

The primary objective with this move would be insuring that every team meet during the regular season.  Logically, one would figure the folks in Bristol, Connecticut putting together the Big Monday schedule would prefer to see Georgetown-Connecticut play every year, along with Syracuse-St. John's, and maybe even Boston College-Notre Dame.  

Within the conversations, however, it has been acknowledged that there is value to having two separate division races and that rivalries within the West and East divisions are starting to bud. 

"We have discussed the situation.  Whatever the conclusion, any change would have to be approved the conference's Presidents," John Paquette, the Big East's communications director, told IrishEyes. 

There was no indication how the proposed change would affect the season-ending Big East Tournament.  Many people have been critical of the fact that not every team makes it to the season-ending soiree at Madison Square Garden, and those critics will speak even louder if conference charter member Georgetown does not qualify this year. 

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UCLA TALK:  Would Brey listen if Westwood came calling? 

The Los Angeles Times this week reported that current UCLA coach Steve Lavin – almost certain to be fired at year end due to the Bruins' 5-16 collapse this season – has named Brey as one of several potential successors.  Among the others: Pittsburgh's Ben Howland, Roy Williams of Kansas and Gonzaga head coach Mark Few. 

What about it coach? 

"Frankly, I thought all of that would end when I left Delaware," Brey said. "I got a great job.  We got such great momentum." 

Brey did not indicate whether he has spoken directly to Lavin recently, but noted that the current Bruin coach probably just floated Brey's name out of respect. 

"He is probably being just a good friend, I talked to him a lot when we were assistants," said Brey. "I'm focused on what we are doing here.  They can deal with that out there." 

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LOST LEADS, BUT NO LOST SLEEP:  If you are wondering what Brey is doing these days to figure out why Notre Dame is in the habit of squandering double-digit leads, stop.  The coach couldn't care less about the lapses, as long as things work out in the end. 

"Here's how I'm going to look at it," Brey said, referring directly to his team's loss of a 15-point lead Tuesday night at West Virginia, "I'm glad we had enough of a lead to absorb the run.  That's my spin on it today.  I'll have another one tomorrow." 

Notre Dame has lost significant leads in the second-half versus Vanderbilt, Valparaiso, Boston College, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia.  It has won six of those seven, and that's what matters to Brey. 

"I'm not going to overanalyze what's going on at the 12:58 mark," said Brey. "But, man, at two minutes, when it's close, you're glad you got someone to make a fearless play, like Chris Thomas." 

Brey has the answer to all the gnashing of teeth over this. 


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