The Big East stepped into the world of big-time college football yesterday.
Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia officially were welcomed into an eight-team Big East football league that will begin play next fall. The schools will join Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
Yesterday's action, announced during a news conference in Providence, R.I., ends the 30-year saga to place the Eastern college football independents in one league. Penn State's planned move to the Big Ten was the catalyst for college football's realignment rush, providing the final push for the Big East to branch out into football.
"This is a historic day for the Big East," said commissioner Mike Tranghese. "We have an excellent group of institutions that are steeped in tradition. We're going to be aggressive."
What makes the Big East's football league unique is that the new conference schools are officially listed as "associate members" and will not participate in the Big East's other sports.
Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova, schools without Division I-A football programs, will continue in the league. Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and the recently admitted Miami Hurricanes will maintain dual affiliations in football and the league's other sports.
The agreement enables the league to sidestep the thorny issue of sharing the basketball wealth. The Big East was created 11 years ago to tap into television-generated revenue.
Rutgers, Temple and West Virginia will continue their affiliations with the Atlantic 10. Virginia Tech will remain part of the Metro Conference.
Tranghese said members will play five league games each by 1995. The 1991 schedule is likely to remain unaltered. That should be good news for the University of Maryland, an Atlantic Coast Conference team that plays Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia in the fall. Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger said he "will wait and see" what impact the Big East's league will have on the Terrapins' future schedules.
The Big East will create a formula to crown a champion, although the process should be complicated this season because Miami and Virginia Tech each has only one league game scheduled. Tranghese added that the Big East was eager to send its conference champion to a major bowl game.
"It's not just having a bowl tie-in, it's having the right bowl," he said. "It will be under the right set of terms and conditions."
Without providing exact terms of the agreement, Tranghese said the schools have joined the footballl league "for the long term." Schools leaving the league will be forced to pay "significant financial penalties," according to Tranghese.
The measures attest to the uncertain state of college athletics. Inter-league raids and the threat of government action to reopen television agreements in football provided incentives for the Big East to create its football league quickly.
"I think that the climate this time around almost forced the issue," Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel said. "We're talking about the integrity of the schedule and the need to play games. When you put it in that context, you get a little shaky-kneed."
Clearly, the football league benefits the new members. Temple has struggled to establish a major-college program in Philadelphia, while Rutgers, Virginia Tech and West Virginia long have sought conference affiliations.
"It's the kind of thing that hopefully will defuse any notion that Temple is not in the I-A football business with a commitment," athletic director Charles Theokas said.
Officials at Rutgers said the school now has a clear football identity.
"Because of our name, Rutgers, we're not the University of New Jersey," Rutgers coach Doug Graber said. "We need recognition across the country. All these conferences can say you're going to play on TV, you're going to play for championships, you're going to play in bowl games. We can, too."
Big East lineup
Here are the members of The Big East football conference, with each school's conference membership in basketball:
Boston College Big East
Miami Big East
Pitt Big East
Rutgers Atlantic 10
Syracuse Big East
Temple Atlantic 10
Virginia Tech Metro
West Virginia Atlantic 10