Big East will be a Monster

With the basketball season winding down and March Madness on the horizon, lets pause and ponder the future of the Big East basketball conference. Next season Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida will join the league creating a 16-team conference that from top to bottom will be one of the toughest in the nation.

Biting off more than you can chew immediately comes to mind. Sixteen teams will make the Big East the largest conference and that might prove a bit unwieldy. Also there are doubters who think the conference's expansion next season to 16 teams is a recipe for trouble, especially when it is time to select teams for the NCAA tournament.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese is fond of a philosophy his predecessor, David Gavin, relied upon in times of worry.

"He'd say, 'If we win, everything will take care of itself,"' Tranghese recently told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Still a lot of observers think that the NCAA selection committee might set an artificial limit on entrants per conference to the 65-team field. It's a genuine concern for coaches, who worry that conference strength works against good teams when league play leads to losses.

"I remember we put seven teams in in 1991 when we had nine members," Tranghese said. "If you can do that, there's no reason you can't [put in many teams]."

Tranghese has served on the committee and been a part of the selection process and he rejects the idea that the committee will place limits on conferences.

"I've served as a chair, and never, ever was a word spoken about numbers of teams from a conference," Tranghese said during a recent visit to DePaul, one of five Conference USA teams joining the Big East. "I've talked to committee members and been assured it doesn't happen."

But some coaches remain very concerned.

The Big East is already a difficult league even before adding the new teams. Just ask Providence coach Tim Welsh.

"We beat Michigan when they were at full strength early in the season," said Welsh. "We went down to Memphis and really handled them. We dominated what I think is a very talented Virginia team. And we have one conference win."

"It's amazing," Welsh added. "It's an amazing bleeping conference."

"When you have 16 teams, that's a lot for a league, especially one with the quality and tradition a lot of the schools have," DePaul coach Dave Leitao told the Chicago Sun-Times. "There are some schools who wake up every morning trying to decide what seed they're going to be. It's not a matter of 'Will we make the tournament?' It's 'Where are we going to be placed?' Once you get past those guys, there isn't a lot of room left for everyone else, unless the selection committee takes more teams from a conference than it has.

"I think that's possible because there are so many quality teams. It's going to create a lot of excitement on every campus because nothing is secured and teams will be fighting for their NCAA lives every year."

Some coaches and administrators still wonder aloud about the future stability of a basketball-heavy conference like the Big East in a football-driven world.

"The reality is, where are we five, six years from now?" Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Down the road, is there going to be another split? That's been out there."

Tranghese remains confident that the Big East will thrive.

"People think we're going to fail, but we're not going to fail. We have too many good teams to fail."

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