By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has heard the criticism of the University of Cincinnati basketball program. He's well aware of the Bearcats' continued poor academic image.
But he isn't buying it.
Tranghese said Monday the league's presidents are enthusiastic about UC's entry into the league, which is retooling next year after losing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Tranghese said all five of the incoming schools - UC, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida - were questioned about the commitments to graduating athletes and running clean programs.
When it came to UC, where eight of the last 14 players to complete their basketball eligibility have graduated, he said, president Nancy Zimpher "addressed everything."
"She's obviously in charge," Tranghese said. "She expects certain things. The presidents had a comfort level that she'd make sure the right things are being done."
Tranghese, in town to meet with UC officials, also took questions from the media. When asked about UC's image and head coach Bob Huggins, he didn't hesitate.
"Let's not dance around it," Tranghese said. "I told (UC athletic director) Bob Goin this: When (Huggins) was in Conference USA and the Louisville program was struggling and Marquette's program was struggling, there was only one program carrying that league. When you're a school that has to carry a league, you're expected to do a lot of things. You feel like you've got the league on your shoulders. It's a form of pressure that's very difficult to bear.
"Bobby doesn't have the pressure anymore because this league can't be carried by any team," Tranghese continued. "This league is too good. He doesn't have to worry about the league anymore. We've got a lot of standard bearers. He can just go coach and do the things you have to do. From that standpoint, it's going to be a different experience for Bobby."
Critics have long targeted Huggins for his flamboyant sideline behavior, but Tranghese said that's not an issue in the Big East, where Huggins will be just one of several vociferous coaches, and maybe not even the most animated.
"I've talked to our officials not only about Bob, but all of the coaches who are coming in," Tranghese said. "Our officials have no problem working Bob's games. He yells and screams, but by the way, Jimmy Calhoun yells and screams. Jimmy Boeheim yells and screams. Believe me, Bob is not going to bring anything to the table that I haven't seen."
Tranghese said the league will decide during its presidents meeting in November how it will set up basketball scheduling for next season, whether each team will play every other team in the league and how many league games there will be in the 16-team conference.
"Our presidents left me with the message last year that they want everybody playing everybody," Tranghese said. "What I have to lay out for them is what all that means. Beginning next year we have two years left on our existing ESPN contract. That could have an effect on what we do."
He said the decision could also be affected by legislation under consideration in the NCAA that would eliminate the two exhibition games and allow teams 29 regular-season games instead of 27.
The league must also decide if all 16 of its basketball schools will play in the Big East Tournament. Currently, only 12 qualify.
"The coaches are adamant about bringing 16," Tranghese said. "The athletic directors are not necessarily on that page."
2005-06 Big East Conference
Here is a look at how next year's Big East Conference will look in football, with each team's current overall and conference record.