The University of Pittsburgh has taken the next basketball step, and after the charter-member Panthers wrap up this season's Eastern Eight commitment, will join the Big East.

Penn State's Joe Paterno is sorry.

Pitt, remaining independent in football, enlisted yesterday in the Big East from 1982 until at least 1985. That brings conference membership to nine schools, sets up a new home-and-home rivalry for Georgetown and partners, and sweetens the league's TV future with another major market. Quashed for now is Paterno's push for an Eastern all-sports conference with football as the keystone, Penn State and Pitt as the cornerstones.

"We're not saying no to an Eastern conference for all time," said Jack Freeman, Pitt's senior vice chancellor, ". . . we're suggesting that the time . . . appears not to have arrived."

"It's a shame," said Paterno, State's football coach/athletic director.* * * *

Ex-Hoya now ex-NBA: Craig Shelton cut by Atlanta, for a maybe healed John Drew . . . Ex-coach, after Saturday: Jim Young tells Boilermaker football squad this is it: ". . . to concentrate on athletic administration (he's associate a.d.) here at Purdue". . .

Tennis' Jimmy Connors said in Tel Aviv he would "probably withdraw" from next week's $300,000 South Africa Open, "for purely personal reasons." No mention of the death threats that Johannesburg tourney officials indicated had scared him off. In London, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee pooh-poohed idea that any such threats had been made. SANROC Chairman Sam Ramsamy: "We believe this is his excuse for honorably getting out . . . He now realizes he should not have entered in the first place. We are happy that the four tennis players (Vitas Gerulaitis, Brian Teacher, Wojtek Fibak also withdrew) have seen the light."

A little travelin' music, though, for the USA Amateur Boxing Federation teams abroad this week, to Gloucester and Dublin to meet English and Irish national squads, and to the Feliks Stamm tournament in Warsaw. James Johnson of Washington is the U.S. 119-pound fighter in the former, Palmer Park's Dave Jacobs the head coach and Pat Waldo, U.S. Marines here, his assistant for the show in Poland . . .

Bing Devine, two-time baseball executive of the year in St. Louis and New York Met days, is leaving his St. Louis Cardinal football vice presidency for his first love, following NFL season. He'll help Montreal Expo player development . . . Oklahoma will receive Saturday, and probably accept, a bid to the Sun Bowl, Dec. 26; maybe to play a Pac-10 team . . .