Dave Gavitt

When Dave Gavitt, who died of congestive heart failure on Sept. 16 at 73, created a Northeast-based college-basketball conference in the late 1970s, few believed it would fly. But Gavitt, the first commissioner of the Big East, teamed with an upstart TV network called ESPN. Result: the value of college-sports programming began its exponential rise.

In an almost cruel twist, that ascension has cost his creation. Gavitt, a hoops Hall of Famer who also ran the Boston Celtics from 1990 to 1994 and helped assemble the first Olympic Dream Team, didn't live to see two longtime Big East members, Syracuse and...

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