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Big East Turns to Big Easy for Expansion

The Big East moved quickly to replace Rutgers and braced for more possible departures, getting Tulane and East Carolina to agree to join the re-invented conference in 2014.

“I would go as far to say as this is a historic day for Tulane University ... the Big East is coming to the Big Easy,” school President Scott Cowen said yesterday.

Tulane, in New Orleans, and East Carolina, in Greenville, N.C., will make it six Conference USA schools to join the Big East in the last two years.

Rutgers announced one week ago that it would leave the Big East for the Big Ten. Cowen and athletic director Rick Dickson said serious talks with the Big East began about a week ago.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to join a national conference,” Dickson said.

Rutgers would like to join the Big Ten by 2014, along with Maryland, but the Scarlet Knights have left their departure date from the Big East ambiguous. Conference bylaws require members to give the league notification of two years and three months before departing, but the Big East has negotiated early exits for Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia in the past year.

West Virginia joined the Big 12 this year. Syracuse and Pitt will begin play in the Atlantic Coast Conference in September.

With Maryland leaving the ACC, there has been strong speculation that Connecticut or Louisville will be the next to leave the Big East as the Terps’ replacement.

If either does, the conference is still on target to have 12 football members in 2014, just not the same ones it will have in 2013, when the new Big East debuts.

Boise State and San Diego State, currently in the Mountain West, are set to join for football only starting in 2013, anchoring the Big East’s new West Division. Also on schedule to join next season are current C-USA members SMU, Houston, Memphis and Central Florida.

Navy has committed to join the Big East for football in 2015. The conference had planned to find a 14th member to balance out its divisions even before Rutgers left. BYU and Air Force were top targets for that spot.

Aresco said that the Big East could even expand to 16 members, depending on what schools are available.

Officials from San Diego State and Boise State have said they are still committed to joining the Big East but have expressed a desire for the conference to add more western schools.

Kentucky Hires Coach

Lexington, Ky. — Kentucky hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops as its new football coach.

The university announced yesterday that Stoops will replace Joker Phillips, who was fired on Nov. 4. Phillips went 13-24 in three seasons at Kentucky.

The 45-year-old Stoops will be introduced at a news conference on Sunday. No. 13 Florida State (10-2) plays Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game on Saturday.

Stoops, brother of Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, has been the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator the past three seasons. Florida State’s defense was ranked 108th when he took over and he has turned the Seminoles into one of the nation’s top defensive teams.

Baseball

Pettitte Returns

New York — Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees are nearing agreement on a one-year contract in the range of $10 million to $12 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said yesterday.

Pettitte, who turns 41 in June, retired after the 2010 season and then decided to come back this year and signed a contract guaranteeing $2.5 million.

He went 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts, missing nearly three months with a broken left leg after he was hit by a liner drive off the bat of Cleveland’s Casey Kotchman broke his left fibula on June 27.

New York also is negotiating on a deal with closer Mariano Rivera, who turns 43 tomorrow. The career saves leader was limited to nine games this year after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while tracking down a fly ball during batting practice in Kansas City on May 3.

Phils’ Catcher Suspended

New York — Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was suspended yesterday for the first 25 games of next season following a positive test for an amphetamine.

The 33-year-old was an All-Star for the first time this year when he hit .325 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs.

“I am sincerely regretful for my mistake in taking a prohibited stimulant,” Ruiz said in a statement issued by the Major League Baseball Players Association. “I apologize to my teammates, the Phillies organization and the Philadelphia fans. I will serve the imposed 25-game suspension to begin the season and I look forward to returning to the field and working toward bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in 2013.”

Ruiz will be eligible to participate in spring training, including exhibition games.

Ruiz became the eighth player suspended this year under the major league testing program, the second for amphetamines following Baltimore shortstop Ryan Adams. The eight suspensions are the most since 2007.

There have been 102 suspensions under the minor league testing program.

A’s Donate Playoff Share

Oakland, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics players have decided to donate one full playoff share to eight local and national charitable efforts, a total of $34,325.16.

Reliever Jerry Blevins, the team’s player representative, informed the front office that he and his teammates voted to donate one playoff share to charities — including Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. The other charities are the MLB Players Trust, UMPS CARE, Oakland A’s Community Fund, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bay Area, United Way of the Bay Area, Donnie Moore Ministries and the “Strike 3 Foundation.”

The AL West champion A’s lost in five games of the AL division series to the Detroit Tigers after a sensational final week of the regular season that included a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers to capture the division crown.