A tough nine-year stretch has made the Big East unrecognizable

The ACC has improved its makeup dramatically while downgrading the Big East. (Getty Images)

A little more than three months after Miami and Virginia Tech accepted invitations to leave the Big East for the ACC in 2003, Boston College announced it would do the same.

So the Big East was suddenly three down.

And Mike Tranghese was really, really fired up.

"We are extremely disappointed with Boston College's decision to leave," the then Big East commissioner said at the time. "Our membership is very surprised the ACC presidents continue to come back into our league for membership."

You think the Big East membership is still surprised today?

Notre Dame joins ACC
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If so, it shouldn't be because what happened Wednesday -- Big Breaking News: Notre Dame is ending its affiliation with the Big East to join the ACC in all sports except football and hockey -- has basically been happening on some level since 2003, shortly after Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a national championship in men's basketball.

Things were good for the Big East back then, weren't they?

The Orange were men's basketball's reigning national champions. Big East members Miami and West Virginia were four months away from being in the top 10 of college football's preseason Associated Press poll. Big East member Connecticut was six months away from being No. 1 in college basketball's preseason Associated Press poll. So if there was much difference between the Big East and the ACC in April 2003, nobody could really tell.

But then John Swofford made a power play.

The longtime ACC commissioner grabbed Miami and Virginia Tech in June 2003, then added Boston College in October 2003, and it's been downhill for the Big East ever since, mostly because of Swofford and his big ideas. Things were quiet for a while after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College defected, at least on the surface. But the foundation of conference realignment never actually settled, and it picked up again last September when the ACC poached Pittsburgh and Syracuse while throwing what amounted to its third punch in eight years.

Then the Big 12 got in on the fun and lured West Virginia and TCU.

Then came Wednesday.

And now Notre Dame basketball is leaving the Big East, too.

Which means four of the five Big East schools that had a winning record in the league while winning at least 19 overall games in men's basketball in the 2002-03 season -- those four are Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Notre Dame -- are now already out or on their way out of the Big East, and four of the past seven schools that have won the Big East Tournament -- those four schools are Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia -- are now already out or on their way out of the Big East, too.

So it's been a tough nine-year stretch for the Big East.

The defections started in 2003.

The latest step became official Wednesday afternoon.

It was surprising the first time a member left for greener pastures, and maybe even the second (at least to Tranghese). But at this point the exits shouldn't shock anybody. The Big East is like a big grocery store where the other so-called power leagues go shopping. It's been this way for nearly a decade. Who knows if it'll ever stop?

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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