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Thursday, December 17, 2009
Dixon praises Big East conference

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Leaving the Big East for the Big Ten would be a big mistake for Pittsburgh, according to men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon.

Dixon calls the Big East "the best conference in college basketball history" and said it wouldn't benefit Pitt or any other conference member to switch leagues.

Big Ten officials plan to spend the next year to 18 months exploring whether to add a 12th member. Pitt has been mentioned as a likely candidate because it offers a large TV market, excellent academics and a prime location. The Panthers could renew their lapsed rivalry with Penn State and form a new one with nearby Ohio State.

Dixon needs to hear a lot more reasons than those.

"I can't see how any team would improve where they're at by movement," Dixon said Thursday. "Every situation, you have to look at why you're doing it to improve yourselves. And I can't see how moving from the best conference in college basketball history would be a good thing for anybody."

While Pitt football might have more to gain than the basketball team by joining the Big Ten, Dixon doesn't believe the move would significantly benefit coach Dave Wannstedt's program, either.

"We've got [football] bowl tie-ins greater than any other conference, as far as percentages, so what would we have to change for?" Dixon said. "This thing just keeps getting better."

Dixon mentioned no schools by name. However, abandoning longtime Big East rivalries with Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut and replacing them with Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- distant schools with no ties or significant attraction to Pitt -- could erode interest in Panthers basketball.

Pitt built a new, on-campus basketball arena seven years ago largely because of the demand for Big East tickets. About 3,000 are on a waiting list for season tickets at the 12,508-seat Petersen Events Center.

To Dixon, the Big East became the envy of other basketball conferences when Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida joined in 2005. Fifteen of the Big East's 16 basketball-playing schools have made at least one Final Four appearance.

"We don't have to change, because things are heading in the right direction," Dixon said. "Other conferences might have to change to gain momentum, but our momentum has been consistent since the expansion itself. So, it's exciting to hear about it and talk about it, but at the end of the day who's really going to improve their position from our conference? Nobody."

Dixon's comments Thursday were the first by any Pitt coach or administrator since the Big Ten signaled its plans on Tuesday. Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has been a strong Big East proponent, leading the expansion drive that kept the conference together after Boston College and Miami left for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2005.

Notre Dame, a Big East member in most sports except football, turned down the Big Ten in 1999.

Dixon also doesn't believe the NCAA basketball tournament will expand from 65 to 96 teams, a move that would create an extra weekend of play and allow far more mid-major schools to participate.

"I just don't see it changing," Dixon said. "I think it probably needs to be changed, but I don't think it can be."

Pitt has played in the last eight NCAA tournaments, the longest current streak of any Big East team.

"I think our numbers indicate how tough it is to make the NCAA tournament when we have by far the longest streak in the best conference in the country," Dixon said. "It just goes to show how tough it's become, especially in our conference, but I just don't know how they're going to change those things around."