Chris Elsberry: Bridgeport schools should keep looking for right fit

It was the spring of 2011. Sitting on the table in front of the 16 presidents of the Big East was a new television deal from ESPN. A nine-year deal worth an estimated $1.3 billion, or $130 million a year. It was a deal that would have guaranteed the eight football members around $14 million a year and the non-football schools around $6 million annually.

According to various published reports, the Big East presidents approved the ESPN deal by a 12-4 vote.

All was right with the world.

But ... while the conference presidents were poring over the fine print, ESPN and Fox Sports announced a deal with the Pac-10, a mega-deal that was going to pay the conference an estimated $250 million a year. Guess what happened? The greedy Big East presidents suddenly had second thoughts about their meager $130-million-a-year deal and re-voted on the contract, thinking they could strong-arm a lot more money from the networks.

The vote was 16-0 ... against the ESPN deal.

So, instead of having a nine-year, $1.3 billion agreement, the Big East had nothing.

And because of that, just a few months later, the football teams started deserting like rats leaving a sinking ship. West Virginia left for the Big 12. Pitt and Syracuse bolted for the ACC. Then Louisville (ACC), Rutgers (Big 10) followed. Worst of all, the seven non-football schools -- Georgetown, St. John's. Marquette, Providence, Villanova, DePaul and Seton Hall -- also left, taking the Big East name with them.

Just like that, perhaps the most powerful overall conference in college sports was destroyed.

And in the era of fellowship and handing out blame where it's due, these are the names of the presidents that ruined the once-proud Big East: Dr Gregory Williams (Cincinnati), Phillip E. Austin, Ph.D (UConn), Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed. D (DePaul), John J. DeGioia, Ph. D (Georgetown), Dr. James Ramsey (Louisville), Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J. (Marquette), Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. (Notre Dame), Mark Nordberg, JD (Pittsburgh), Rev. Brian J. Shanley O.P. (Providence), Dr. Richard L. McCormick (Rutgers), Rev. Donald J. Harrington C.M. (St. John's), A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph. D (Seton Hall), Dr. Judy Genshaft (South Florida), Dr. Nancy Canton (Syracuse), Rev. Peter M. Donahue O.S.A. (Villanova) and James P. Clements Ph. D (West Virginia).

And as the Big East took its last dying breath this past week with Louisville winning the men's NCAA title and UConn taking the NCAA women's crown, leave it to Husky coach Geno Auriemma to put what happened to the Big East in stark perspective.

"We have three Big East (women's teams) in the Final Four, and we have two on the men's side," Auriemma said before the Final Four. "So we've got five of the eight Big East teams, five of the eight national championship contenders are Big East schools. So I guess the shout-out should go out to all the presidents for having the foresight to tear apart the greatest basketball conference that's ever existed."

All because of money.

"It just seems like loyalty, integrity and congeniality are gone," former commissioner Mike Tranghese said earlier this year when asked about the demise of the Big East. "College football has taken control of everything that's going on. All of these moves are about football and money and greed. I'm embarrassed about the whole thing."

A lot of people are. And they're upset too.

"I think the way the Big East has changed, it's not the great conference it was. It's completely different now," Syracuse men's coach Jim Boeheim said at the Final Four. "I love the Big East, but if the Big East was the same as it was, or even remotely the same, I would quit because I wouldn't be happy. I should be happy because I've always thought that the two best leagues in the country were the ACC and the Big East over the last 34 years. But the Big East is not the same. In fact, there's more Big East teams in the ACC than there are Big East teams in whatever the conference is now, American whatever."

And this from Louisville's Rick Pitino:

"For me personally, leaving the Big East, it's very, very difficult," he said. "We love Dave Gavitt, we love the fact that he put something special together, and for me personally growing up on 26th Street on the East Side of Manhattan, being a New York Knicks assistant and head coach, leave the Garden, is a big loss personally for all the great memories we've had."

Just two years ago, the Big East was on the verge of signing a billion-dollar deal that would have carried the league into the 2020's. Today, everything that Dave Gavitt built is gone.

Thanks to 16 greedy presidents that tore apart the greatest basketball conference ever. http://Twitter@elsctpost (30)