The Big East Conference was a collegiate athletics conference that consisted of as many as 16 universities in the eastern half of the United States from 1979 to 2013. The conference's members participated in 24 NCAA sports. The conference had a history of success at the national level in basketball throughout its history, while its shorter (1991 to 2013) football program, created by inviting one college and four other "associate members" (their football programs only) into the conference, resulted in two national championships.|
In football, the Big East entered competition as a conference in 1991, after inviting five football colleges to become members of the Big East, joining three teams from the Big East whose football teams were competing as Division I independents (Boston College, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) to form a new Division I football league. The strength of this league earned the Big East an automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series, when that series was created in 1998. The Big East won two national football championships, both by University of Miami. Between 2005 and 2012, four of the more successful football schools left the Big East for other conferences, starting a process that led to a complete realignment of the Big East in 2013.
The addition of the three football schools, along with Big East non-football member Connecticut moving up to the Big East football conference, ensured that the league would keep the minimum eight teams needed to keep its BCS bid. In addition, two traditional basketball teams, DePaul and Marquette, were added to gain the Chicago and Milwaukee television markets and help the already solid basketball status of the conference.
On October 28, 2011 it was announced by the Big 12 Conference that West Virginia accepted its invitation to join, with membership beginning in 2012. This timeline was challenged by the Big East, and countersuits were launched by the school and conference. Eventually, a settlement was reached with allowed West Virginia's departure for 2012 in exchange for sizable compensation. Syracuse and Pittsburgh then used the acquiescence of the Big East to West Virginia's departure to challenge the validity of their own commitment, and the Big East agreed to a settlement with both schools in July 2012 to allow their departure for the 2013 academic year.
On December 31, Boise State announced they had decided to stay in the Mountain West conference, leaving the Big East, much like TCU, without ever playing a game in it. With Boise State staying in the Mountain West, it was noted that San Diego State would indeed try to rejoin the Mountain West as well. On January 16, 2013, reports surfaced that SDSU would indeed stay in the Mountain West. Rumors of the MWC looking at potentially adding Houston and SMU as its 13th and 14th football members, both of which had stated they would join the Big East in 2013, continued to circulate as well.
Georgetown, led by senior Sleepy Floyd and freshman Patrick Ewing, made the NCAA Championship Game in 1982. Just two years later, in 1984, Georgetown won the Big East's first NCAA basketball championship with a victory over the University of Houston.
Beginning with their first Big East championship in 1990, Connecticut has become the preeminent power in the Big East. Over the past two decades, UConn has made many deep runs in NCAA tournament, playing in the Elite 8 nine times and making four appearances in the Final Four. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun's program, led by such stars as Ray Allen, Richard "Rip" Hamilton, Caron Butler, Emeka Okafor and Kemba Walker, averaged nearly 26 wins per year during that time span, won numerous Big East regular season and tournament championships, and claimed the National Championship in 1999, 2004 and 2011.
Due to the strength of the Connecticut program, 2001 national champion and 2011 and 2012 national runner-up Notre Dame, and 2007 national runner-up Rutgers, the Big East has emerged as one of the major powers in women's college basketball. In 2009 two Big East schools met in the national championship game (Connecticut and Louisville) and the South Florida women's basketball team defeated Kansas to become the WNIT champions. In 2011, UConn and Notre Dame both made the Final Four; the Irish defeated the Huskies in their semifinal but lost to Texas A&M in the NCAA Championship Game. The Irish returned to the championship game in 2012, losing there to unbeaten Baylor.
The universities that replaced them were Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati from Conference USA. The league also invited the University of Connecticut to play football a year earlier than planned. At about this time, the BCS announced that it would adjust the automatic bids granted to its six founding conferences based on results from 2004 to 2007, and that there would be five, six, or seven such bids starting in 2008. The obvious inference was that soon the Big East might lose its bid.
The Big East Conference first crowned men's cross country champions in 1979 and women's cross country champions in 1982. During the history of the original Big East, six different women's teams won Big East Championships: Boston College, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Villanova and West Virginia. On the men's side six teams won Big East Championships as well: Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse and Villanova.