Auriemma to Big East Catholic schools: Leave

By Carl Adamec

STORRS, Conn. — Since the start of the 1993-94 season, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team has compiled a 151-4 (.974) record against the seven Catholic schools that announced last Saturday they are leaving the Big East.

So you might think that UConn coach Geno Auriemma would be sad that DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova would be departing to start their own conference.

Think again.

“I hope they leave tomorrow,” Auriemma said. “But they can’t because we have to play out the schedule. But I hope as soon as the season is over they go and do what they need to do just like everybody else. Just like Syracuse. Just like West Virginia did. I think West Virginia did it the right way, ‘I don’t want to be in this conference anymore. I’m leaving. See you. What do I owe you? I’m out of here.’ I hope everybody takes that approach. Whether or not that’s going to happen, I don’t know.”

Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, and Seton Hall are charter members of the Big East from 1979. Villanova joined in 1980 while DePaul and Marquette were added when the league brought in five schools from Conference USA in 2005 after the departures of Boston College, Miami (Fla.), and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But none of the Catholic schools play FBS football and that’s where the money is.

“I think everybody has their own ideas.” Auriemma said. “Everybody has their own theories. Everybody wants to live in a nostalgic world. Everybody wants to live in that world where the nine original Big East schools live and play against each other forever. I think as it started happening and football became the driving vehicle, you’re either at the big-boy table playing poker or you’re not.

“I think the Catholic schools did a really good thing. They stayed at the table as long as they could make as much money as they could, and then when they saw that the money was running out, they decided, ‘Let’s go play somewhere else.’ Had they voted appropriately, some of them, in the last 10 years we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in. They did what was best for them, just like a lot of Catholic schools do. And a lot of people used to always say the state schools are the big bad guys, and we certainly had our share of that in our conference. At this point in time, they probably felt like this is the best time for us to make our move.”

The Big East is now considered by many to be the best women’s basketball league in the country. It wasn’t always that way.

When the Huskies swept the Big East regular season and tournament titles for the first time in 1989, they were given a No. 8 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament and played a first-round game against La Salle at the Storrs Field House. In 1995 when the Huskies won their first national championship, the Big East received only two bids (UConn and Seton Hall) to a 64-team NCAA field. Since 2007, however, the league has received at least seven bids each year with a record nine being invited in 2011.

Auriemma said being an independent is not an option for UConn, but he’ll work to make the Huskies’ new conference — whatever that is — the best it can be.

“There’s something to be said about playing for a conference championship,” Auriemma said. “There’s something to be said for being in a league and the traditional things that come with being in a league. The new Big East, we’re going to create the best women’s basketball conference in the country if we can. That’s my goal right now.”

Auriemma, Krzyzewski honored
Auriemma and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — the coaches that led the United States women’s and men’s basketball teams to gold medals at the London Olympic Games last summer — were announced as co-recipients of the 2012 USA Basketball National Coach of the Year award Wednesday.

“The opportunity to coach the Olympic Team is an amazing opportunity that you are very fortunate to have and all you want to do is a great job while putting the players in a position to be successful,” Auriemma said in a statement. “I thought our entire coaching staff, Doug Bruno, Marynell Meadors, Jen Gillom and everyone associated with our team from Carol Callan on down, were outstanding. We got all the resources and support that we needed, and I think I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them, along with Jim Tooley and Jerry Colangelo for what they do. So, I don’t know that it was me as much as the support group we had around us and the great group of athletes I had the opportunity to coach. They were just unbelievably committed to winning, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be around a group like that ever again.”

The USA Basketball honor is the second for Auriemma, who also shared it with Krzyzewski in 2010 after they led their respective teams to gold in the FIBA world championships.

“Our two coaches built outstanding teams for USA Basketball that our country was proud to cheer on in London,” said Tooley, USA Basketball’s Executive Director/CEO. “From the start of their involvement with our national team programs, Coach K and Geno have exemplified the qualities they stressed to our players, including commitment, selfless service and excellence.”