The BIG EAST Conference
The brainchild of former Providence College men's basketball coach and athletic director Dave Gavitt, the BIG EAST Conference became a reality on May 31, 1979, as Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Connecticut and Boston College formed the original seven-school alliance. While the membership has evolved, the focus of the BIG EAST has not wavered. The conference reflects a tradition of broad-based programs, led by administrators and coaches who place a steadfast emphasis on academic integrity.
In 2012, the seven BIG EAST schools that do not compete in FBS football decided to return to the type of conference alignment that existed when Gavitt helped form the league in 1979 and quickly surged to national prominence as a college basketball force. On December 15, 2012, these seven institutions (DePaul University, Georgetown University, Marquette University, Providence College, St. John's University, Seton Hall University and Villanova University) announced their intention to separate from the football-playing schools in the previous BIG EAST and form an independent association.
On March 20, 2013, the seven schools reached an agreement that enabled them to keep the BIG EAST name and establish a new conference entity beginning on July 1, 2013. The schools also assumed the old conference's long-term agreement with Madison Square Garden to host the BIG EAST Men's Basketball Tournament, one of the premier events in college athletics. The schools also announced the addition of three distinguished institutions that share the same academic and athletic values -- Butler University, Creighton University and Xavier University -- and forged a landmark, long-term broadcast partnership with FOX Sports.
FOX Sports and its recently established national cable network, FOX Sports 1, acquired the television rights to all BIG EAST contests in all sports in early 2013. The television agreement helped usher in the new BIG EAST era by making the league accessible to a national audience with complete coverage of all BIG EAST men's basketball regular-season and Tournament contests. A selection of regular-season women's basketball games as well as the semifinals and final of the BIG EAST Tournament were all shown via the FOX Networks, which reaches 90 million homes. Soccer, lacrosse, softball and baseball also had their conference championships aired on the FOX Sports channels in 2013-14. Dividends were paid immediately as BIG EAST teams enjoyed a significant jump in the number of nationally televised games on their schedules, with many seen on countrywide broadcasts four times as frequently as seasons past.
Starting in 2014-15, the BIG EAST and FOX Sports will launch a digital platform which will include 30 regular-season women's basketball games and over 80 Olympic sport contests, including postseason championship coverage. Fans will be able to access the live broadcasts as well as feature content and highlights free of charge.
BIG EAST institutions are located in seven of the nation's top 35 largest media markets, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. Under the direction of Commissioner Val Ackerman, the BIG EAST moved its headquarters prior to the 2013-14 academic year from its original location in Providence, R.I., to Midtown Manhattan in New York City.
Ackerman was named the BIG EAST's fifth Commissioner on June 26, 2013, following Gavitt, the Conference's first Commissioner who served until 1990, Michael Tranghese, John Marinatto and Mike Aresco. Tranghese was the league's first full-time employee and the right-hand man to Gavitt for 11 years, taking over for Gavitt as Commissioner until 2009. Marinatto was the third Commissioner of the BIG EAST, serving from 2009-2012, when he was succeeded by Aresco.
It was with the BIG EAST's founder and first commissioner in mind when Ackerman, who previously served as President of USA Basketball and was the founding President of the WNBA, teamed with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany to establish the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Beginning in 2015-16, the Gavitt Tipoff Games will be an annual early-season series of eight men's basketball games played between the two conferences.
The BIG EAST will embark on its second year as a 10-team consortium in 2014-15. The league, which has always competed with integrity and sportsmanship at the highest levels of intercollegiate sports, began a new era in 2013-14, returning to its heritage, focusing athletically on basketball while forging into the future with leadership and vision.
The 2013-14 academic year marked the BIG EAST's first season since realignment. The conference crowned champions in 22 sports last year, the 35th season in its history, with its student-athletes achieving success in the classroom as well as the athletic arena. Eight different schools won regular-season titles, including first-year member Creighton, which claimed the baseball regular-season crown, and 10 different schools won BIG EAST postseason championships. Fellow newcomer Xavier won the BIG EAST Baseball Championship.
The Musketeers were one of 34 different BIG EAST teams to earn NCAA Championship bids in 2013-14, with a remarkable nine teams (five men, four women) earning invites to the NCAA Soccer Tournaments. Nine different national postseason championships saw multiple BIG EAST teams participate, including four league squads in men's basketball and women's cross country, and two in volleyball, women's basketball, men's cross country, field hockey and women's lacrosse. Additionally, a plethora of individuals earned national postseason invitations in tennis, cross country and track and field.
Two BIG EAST teams and one individual performer won NCAA Championships in 2013-14, beginning with the Providence women's cross country team. The Friars claimed their second national championship in program history, as three PC runners were tabbed All-Americans and 30th-year head coach Ray Treacy was named National Coach of the Year by the USTFCCCA. Affiliate member Connecticut won its third NCAA title in field hockey in 2013, with Nancy Stevens named NFHCA National Coach of the Year and Marie Elena Bolles National Player of the Year.
Including the three Friar runners, 83 BIG EAST student-athletes across 16 sports were named All-Americans in 2013-14, including Villanova's Emily Lipari. A four-time All-American in 2013-14, Lipari won the national title in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in March, marking the Wildcats' 20th indoor national champion.
In March, all eyes were on the hardwood as the BIG EAST Men's Basketball Tournament returned to Madison Square Garden for the 32nd consecutive season. It was a tale of old versus new as conference charter member Providence advanced to the BIG EAST Championship for the first time in 20 years, while first-year participant Creighton, led by consensus National Player of the Year Doug McDermott, marched its way through the opening rounds to reach the final in its BIG EAST Tournament debut. In the end, the Friars, led by All-American Bryce Cotton, captured their first title since 1994. Cotton won the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the BIG EAST Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
Along with the Bluejays and Friars, Villanova and Xavier earned NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bids, while on the women's side, BIG EAST Tournament and regular-season champion DePaul punched its NCAA ticket, along with runner-up St. John's. The BIG EAST Women's Basketball Tournament was held for the first time at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., as the Blue Demons claimed their first tourney title in league history in front of a hometown crowd.
Successful strides were made academically as well, as 10 BIG EAST student-athletes were named CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, including four first-team members. Butler's Katie Clark and Mara Olson (cross country, track and field) and Marquette's Charlie Lyon (soccer) and Kate Reigle (soccer) all garnered first-team honors.
The triumphs enjoyed by the BIG EAST in 2013-14 add to an already illustrious legacy steeped in men's basketball and expanded to other sports since the conference's founding.
BIG EAST men's basketball teams have enjoyed extraordinary success over the years. Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova have won the national championship, and DePaul, Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall have all made it to the Final Four. The BIG EAST placed three men's basketball teams in the Final Four in 1985 - Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova -- the only time this has occurred in NCAA history. Over the past 11 years, Butler, Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova have each reached the Final Four, with Butler making two trips (in 2010 and 2011). Xavier has also advanced to the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 three other times.
BIG EAST student-athletes have achieved recent success in other sports, as well. A BIG EAST team has won the NCAA women's cross country championship four of the last five years (Villanova won twice; Providence and Georgetown once), with one runner-up finish (Providence). Creighton's men's soccer team has reached the NCAA College Cup in two of the past three seasons. Since opening its doors in 1979, the league has won 36 national championships in six different sports, and 138 student-athletes have won individual national titles through 2013-14.
The league has long been considered a leader in innovative concepts in promotion and publicity, particularly regarding television. Those efforts have resulted in unparalleled visibility for the conference and BIG EAST student-athletes. BIG EAST student-athletes sport significantly high graduation rates, and the league has always been able to boast that many of its best students are also its best athletes.