Coaches Talk About Change in Big East

WHEELING – As Pitt’s Jamie Dixon finished his presentation to the men and women gathered for Sunday’s Cancer Research Classic Basketball Coaches Clinic at Wheeling Jesuit University, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins glanced through a gym door window of the McDonough Center to get a look at his peer.

When Dixon’s session ended, Huggins came through the door and greeted his fellow Big East bench boss with a hearty handshake and a few pleasantries.

It’s a scene that has played out many times the last four years in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, and it’s one whose days are numbered.

Pittsburgh, along with Syracuse, are heading to the ACC. And it’s a move Dixon has mixed emotions about.

”I think we realize, as coaches, we don’t have a lot of say in what happens,” Dixon said. ”We know it’s about the whole athletics department and all of the different factors that come into play.

”I realized it was a possibility and that, if we moved, it would probably be to the conference where we ended up.”

Currently with 16 members in men’s basketball and eight in football, the Big East has been more of a plucker than a pluckee in recent years.

The conference added Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida from Conference USA a short time after Miami (Fla.), Boston College and Virginia Tech defected for the ACC.

TCU from the Mountain West is entering the Big East next season.

Even with the ACC again taking two of the Big East’s top schools, both Huggins and Dixon believe rumors of the conference’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

”I think we’ll be able to bring some schools in that will add to what we have,” Huggins said. ”It seems like we’ve had nine schools in the Top 25 forever and ever. So, maybe now we’ll only have eight.

”We’re still in the best conference in America.”

NCAA Division I conferences – or Bowl Subdivision conferences in football – have been in a constant state of flux in recent years. Sunday, the Southeastern Conference announced Texas A&M will join the league next July.

With the shake-up of the Big East, many have wondered if West Virginia would jump ship to the SEC, the Big 12, or help form a conferences comprised of leftovers from other leagues. Huggins, who coached in the Big 12 at Kansas State prior to returning to Morgantown, is pleased with what the Big East offers.

”I’m very content to stay where we’re at,” he said. ”I think Pitt will end up being in (the Big East) for two more years. It’s not like (they’re leaving) now.

”We’ll be fine. You can’t imagine what it’s like until you’re in it. There are no easy games. You go from playing Georgetown to Pitt to UConn. It’s hard and brutal.”

Rutgers coach Mike Rice – also speaking at Sunday’s clinic – said he’s more concerned with getting his seven freshman acclimated to college life than worrying about whether or not the Scarlet Knights will look for a new home.

”(The Big East) has taken some hits,” he said. ”But, it’s taken some hits before and actually come back stronger.

”You still have so many quality basketball teams in the league. It’s unfortunate (about Pitt and Syracuse leaving), but that’s the college athletics landscape we live in, so you deal with it.

”The powers that be will figure it out.”

Dixon knows football is the driving force behind most, if not all, of the moves schools and conferences are making, along with television markets and school locations.

”It’s tough, it really is,” Dixon said of the impending move. ”But we’re also going to what is considered a more stable situation and that is what really all athletics departments are looking for and what all universities are looking for.

”It’s something we can grow with and I hope all other schools end up in a situation where they’re bettering themselves, as well.”

The Panthers have developed many rivalries through their years in the Big East, none greater than the ”Backyard Brawl” with the Mountaineers.

While Huggins has no idea what will happen with the series, Dixon said he’s open to the idea of trying to continue it in some form or fashion.

”Obviously, there’s a history between the two schools that dates beyond I and Coach Huggins and anybody else that’s around the athletics departments now.

”We’re in a situation where we have a number of rivals (in the Big East). Trying to schedule all of them won’t be an easy task.”


  • The lineup for this season’s Cancer Research Classic Basketball Tournament has been finalized. The event will begin Friday, January 6 at 7:30 p.m. with Wheeling Central taking on Pittsburgh Central Classic. Saturday’s lineup of games will feature Simeon (Chicago) vs. Miller Grove (Lithonia, Ga.), St. Anthony (Jersey City, NJ) vs. DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.), Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Ca.) vs. St. Raymond (Bronx, N.Y.), Gonzaga (DC) vs. Whitney Young (Chicago), Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) vs. Gill St. Bernard’s (Gladstone, N.J.), and St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia) vs. Wheeling Park.