If Father Healy of Georgetown, or one of the other eight school presidents, pays a scalper's ransom because he misplaced a ticket, the Big East will crawl a bit closer to the Atlantic Coast Conference as a basketball league. Parity would come even sooner if St. John's hauled its campus to northern Virginia and Boston College relocated in Chevy Chase, or if John Thompson stopped being Mr. Nice Guy before important games.

Anybody can create a conference, as we've seen by all those Sun Belts, Midwestern Cities and the like that have dribbled into existence lately. There is a Metro Conference, and also two Metro divisions of another league, the ECAC. If cooking schools suddenly decided to emphasize 6-foot-8 chefs, they would call their creation the Big Feast.

All the Big East has now is the country's best semi-amateur basketball, as well as a player the likes of which the ACC has never seen -- and never will -- in Patrick Ewing. The ACC is so delicate it probably would tie a low-post terror to the bench in a foul-knot before the third television timeout.

But excellence hardly is the major criterion for judging a conference; otherwise, the Pac-1 would have been celebrated when UCLA was dominating the NCAAs from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s. And when you've finished another chorus of hosannas for Ewing and Chris Mullin, snickered at Looie's gentle con and drawn back a bit from Thompson's presence and Georgetown's zest for defense, what else is left of the Big East?

Any league is the Big Sky without lore, and at age 6 the Big East still lacks the offcourt lunacy that has made the ACC so endearing. You could spend several fascinating nights talking ACC hoops and not once mention half-court traps, Ralph or Michael or the three national championships since the league was formed in 1954.

The athletic director at North Carolina State, Willis Casey, insists that a former president of the university system in North Carolina once was caught crawling into a game through a men's room window when he somehow had gone ticketless; prim matrons paint tiger paws on their cheeks.

Four corners? For years, that would be Dean Smith in one corner, Lefty Driesell and Norm Sloan in another and whoever happened to be coaching at Clemson in another during social functions. Big East coaches actually like each other.

"The first sign of insanity," Al McGuire said when the feuding was most intense, "is coaching in the ACC."

True or not, league gossip has the Lefthander once changing the light bulbs in the tunnel through which Carolina passed from its dressing room to the floor in Cole Field House. He reasoned that the contrast, from near- overwhelming glare, would affect the Heels' shooting.

The ACC is the first conference to realize the enormous gouge potential in college sport. So fanatic are its supporters that the conference used to play an entire regular season that wasn't worth a cow chip toward winning the championship.

North Carolina could win the regular-season title with a 12-2 record, as it did in 1960, and then lose an NCAA bid because 7-7 Duke mined second-chance gold in the tournament. What kind of business is this? Profitable, if not sensible, business. And had the NCAA not gotten smart and allowed more than one school from each conference into its tournament, other dollar-dizzy leagues would have copied the format.

Since half the teams in half the leagues make the NCAAs, the ACC has come half cycle: now the tournament this weekend means next to nothing, unless Virginia, Clemson or Wake Forest manages to win. Then the ACC will have six teams, instead of five, invited to the national playoffs.

As Texas and much of the Southwest Conference know only football and spring football, there are three seasons in ACC hoops: the regular schedule, the tournament and recruiting. The last almost always is the spiciest, with the four North Carolina schools frequently spying on one another from a common airport.

Interest being so keen, names and faces of high-school hotshots so common, that a baggage handler with loyalties to N.C. State might tip the basketball office off that Dickie Dunk is being escorted this very moment to the Smith shrine over in Chapel Hill.

Ticket takers at Raleigh-Durham airport have been known to call coaches and repeat the itinerary of a rival staff. Only Boston College and Providence are close enough for that sort of Big East intrigue, and neither has made much of a recruiting impact nationally of late.

Proximity breeds bitterness, and nearly all of what has made the ACC unique in basketball began with a man who had trouble not bouncing the ball off his foot. Because Everett Case was so successful at State, Carolina hired Frank McGuire. Duke later hired a Case pup, Vic Bubas, to beat McGuire. And so on.

Almost everyone now can imitate the Kansas cooing of Smith, but almost no one can beat him regularly. His mind games seem to have some teams feeling lost before tipoff. But rivalries with Carolina are so fierce that a proposed book about Smith was canceled once because the prospective publisher thought other fans in the South would boycott it.

For a while the last two years, the Big East seemed to have some ACC-like flair. True, it was only Georgetown's and some other players who were involved in brief fights (a South Carolina forward once nailed Driesell). Then Ewing and Mullin actually admitted to being friends, drawn together during the Olympics by Bob Knight.

Thompson lent an ominous touch to the Big East, until he walked into Madison Square Garden before the St. John's rematch, ripped open his sport coat and revealed an enormous copy of Carnesecca's lucky sweater. Yeah, Jim Valvano would pull such a stunt, but the Thompson needle on mean meters dipped dramatically.

Good fellowship is virtuous, but hardly the yeast of legends. Smugly, ACC partisans might say: "Kid, you've got a lot to learn."