By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The production might have seemed a bit overblown to those unfamiliar with the history of athletics at the University of Cincinnati, what with the band blaring the school fight song in the Kingsgate Conference Center on the UC campus and the cheerleaders showing up dressed in their uniforms.
But for longtime followers of UC, there was no way to overstate the significance of UC's and the Big East Conference's joint announcement Tuesday that the Bearcats were leaving Conference USA to join the Big East for the 2005-06 school year.
UC President Nancy Zimpher and pep band director Nick Dellacave (left) dance rythmically and make the "UC" letters with their arms as the university announced its membership in the Big East Conference.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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If it's not the most important development in the history of the school's athletic program, it ranks second only to the back-to-back national basketball championships the Bearcats won in 1961 and 1962.
UC athletic director Bob Goin, who began engineering the move in late June when Virginia Tech and Miami announced they were leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, said the move would have a domino effect that will benefit the school athletically and academically.
"It makes so much academic and athletic sense," Goin said. "It places our university in some outstanding markets. It widens our recruiting base and it puts us in a position to recruit young men and young women that we choose to."
From a competitive standpoint, membership in the Big East, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, makes UC's football program a participant in the Bowl Championship Series that determines the national champion.
The basketball team, already a nationally recognized program, will compete in a conference that many believe will be the most competitive in the country. Women's basketball will find itself in the same conference that has produced the last four national champions.
"If you want to better yourself, you put yourself around better competition," said Laurie Pirtle, UC's women's basketball coach.
Dr. Nancy Zimpher, UC's president, said the engine that drove UC's acceptance by the Big East was its academic reputation.
UC President Nancy Zimpher wears a Big East cap as the university announced its membership in the Big East Conference.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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"We had to present ourselves," Zimpher said. "We were personally interviewed by the presidents of the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia University. It started with our academic enterprise."
UC also benefited by offering a media market that ranks 27th in the country. The new Big East will penetrate 25 percent of the nation's TV households and 27 percent of the population.
Financially the move will be a boon to UC. As a member of one of the six BCS conferences, UC will share bowl revenue estimated for this year at $17,015,555, according to the BCS. C-USA will get $1 million.
None of the schools leaving C-USA will have to pay the $500,000 exit fee required by league rules.
Although the new Big East members are not expected to join the league until 2005-06, Goin said UC would prefer to begin Big East competition in 2004-05.
At this time, though, he said, that's not likely.
Big East officials said Tuesday they might agree to accept the new members next year if they reach an agreement with C-USA first.
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