May 30, 2012

This electronic billboard in New York City's Times Square welcomes SMU to the Big East.

SMU’s membership in the Big East Conference will fulfill the University’s goal to join a Bowl Championship Series Automatic Qualifier (BCS-AQ) conference, a standard of excellence in college athletics today.

As of press time, the Big East continued to admit new members to fill vacancies that will be created by the exit of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014 and West Virginia to the Big 12 Conference, at a date to be determined. And though the league may continue to change its membership makeup, one thing is certain: SMU will become a part of the largest conference, which will span coast-to-coast, on July 1, 2013. Traditional rivalries will take on new meanings for the Mustangs.

In 2012, the Big East football membership will consist of Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple (newest addition) and the University of South Florida (USF). In 2013, Boise State, University of Central Florida (UCF), Houston, Memphis, San Diego State and SMU will be added, and in 2015, the U.S. Naval Academy will join the league.

In 2014, the Big East basketball membership will include Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Houston, Louisville, Marquette, Memphis, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, St. John’s, Seton Hall, SMU, Temple, UCF, USF and Villanova.

“Over the past 32 years, the Big East Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics,” says Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these great universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution.

“Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name – though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members – has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that.”

Big East’s Big Footprint

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With the addition of the new schools, the Big East will have the largest footprint of any college football conference in the nation, with a coast-to-coast presence spanning nine states in five regions of the country.

And that is good news for SMU alumni living in the Midwest or on the East Coast, who now will be able to see the Mustangs play in their own back yards. Pony fan Lisa Utasi ’84 of New York City cannot wait. “It’s exciting to have the prospect of playing top-level competitors in the new Western division of the Big East, as well as indescribable to think we will have an opportunity to potentially see SMU play basketball in Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament,” she says. “I can only imagine driving to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to watch SMU take on the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights at the ‘birthplace of college football,’ too.”

James White ’82 of Chicago believes that joining the Big East “enables SMU to gain greater visibility in different regions and cities throughout the country. “We now will be able to see SMU play in the Chicago area against Notre Dame, Marquette and DePaul,” he says. “Academically, we should be able to attract more kids from other regions with our additional exposure. The quality of the SMU student has continued to improve, and now more people will get to know SMU and the many great qualities that drew all of us to the University.”

By joining the Big East Conference, SMU continues its push toward becoming a top-25 athletics program. On the field of play, SMU has been ranked as the top school in its conference for 11 of the past 14 years in the Director’s Cup overall athletic rankings.

Building And Improving

SMU football players celebrate their 28-6 victory over current Big East member Pittsburgh at the BBVA Compass Bowl January 7.

From an infrastructure standpoint, SMU has embarked on an $80-million plan to build new facilities and improve existing ones. The $13-million, 43,000-square-foot Crum Basketball Center, a basketball-only practice facility adjacent to Moody Coliseum, opened in February 2008, and Turpin Tennis Stadium opened that April. (To make way for construction on the new residential halls and corresponding parking garage, a new indoor-outdoor tennis complex will be built on the site of the former Mrs. Baird’s bakery on Mockingbird Lane.) Phase I of the SMU Payne Stewart Golf Learning Center at the Dallas Athletic Club was completed in 2010 and updates have been made to the Loyd Center, which houses coaches’ offices, athletic administration, sports medicine, strength and conditioning and academic support services.

In addition, a new integrated video and audio system was installed at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in 2010, and a renovated football locker room and team meeting rooms, along with new stadium turf, were completed before the 2011 season. Renovations to Moody Coliseum, which began in 2008 with the installation of a new $900,000 video board and redesigned court, will ramp up in the coming year as SMU has announced a $40-million-plus plan for a complete facility renovation and expansion expected to be completed in time for SMU’s first season in the Big East.

Academically, SMU’s new conference features six schools ranked among the top 82 universities in U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 ranking of Best National Universities. At No. 62, SMU ranks fourth among all Big East schools in the category.

In adding SMU and the Dallas-Fort Worth television market, the nation’s fifth-largest, the Big East Conference further strengthens its media presence. Big East markets already contain almost one-fourth of all television households in the United States – more than twice as many households as any other conference. Big East institutions will now reside in six of the nation’s top-eight media markets, and 12 of the top 35. Cities like Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., all fall in the Big East footprint.

“Our move to the Big East is good for SMU, for Dallas and for this region of the country and reflects the re-emergence of our successful football program under the leadership of June Jones,” says SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Coupled with our steady rise academically and athletically, we are in a good position to continue our rise among national universities. On top of that, a grassroots effort of our alumni, elected officials and steadfast supporters coast-to-coast gave us the momentum we needed. We look forward to this new era of competition.”

Excitement Goes ‘Through The Roof!’

SMU President R. Gerald Turner (right) and Student Body President Austin W. Prentice (left) are joined by Big East Commissioner John Marinatto in announcing SMU's membership in the Big East Conference.

Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, the Big East Conference was formed in 1979. The league has won 31 national championships in six sports with 133 student-athletes capturing individual national titles. Specifically for football, the Big East is an automatic qualifier (AQ) to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), meaning the league champion is assured a berth in one of the five BCS bowl games on an annual basis. Those bowls include the Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and the BCS National Championship game.

In men’s and women’s basketball, Big East teams have excelled at the highest levels, winning 14 national championships. In 2004, Connecticut’s men’s and women’s teams both won NCAA titles in the same season.

Since the conference announcement, excitement for upcoming football and basketball seasons has been “through the roof,” says Student Body President Austin W. Prentice ’12. “SMU’s acceptance into the Big East Conference has provided a tremendous jolt of energy among the student body. Whether die-hard college sports fans or not, the conference changer will be an added benefit to SMU’s already nationally recognized name.”