The Big East Conference will retain a 12-team conference tournament and a one-division regular season structure once it expands to 16 teams for the 2005-06 season. The conference also announced yesterday that each school will continue to play a 16-game regular season schedule, a format favored by many of the league's most prominent coaches.

Under the new structure, schools will play 10 conference opponents once, three opponents twice and two schools not at all during the regular season. Decisions on repeat matchups will be based on television, rivalries and geography.

In fall 2005, five Conference USA teams -- Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul, South Florida and Marquette -- will join the Big East, creating perhaps the nation's deepest and strongest men's basketball league. The Big East is home to the past two national champions, Syracuse and U-Conn., and next season will add three teams whose coaches have Final Four experience.

The decision to cap the conference tournament at 12 teams means that the four Big East teams with the worst records will not compete for an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament each season. The rationale of the athletic directors who made the recommendations was that the league's best teams should not have to play four consecutive days, as they would in a 16-team tournament.

"The bottom line is we want to help our best teams prepare for success in the NCAA tournament," Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "If we expanded our tournament field to 16 teams, there would be no byes or rewards for what's going to be an exciting, but grueling, regular season."

The move to retain the 16-game regular season schedule was seen as a victory for league coaches who hope to construct schedules most attractive to the NCAA selection committee. Several coaches, including Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and U-Conn.'s Jim Calhoun, expressed support for the 16-game schedule at the recent conference media day.

They believe an alternative, an 18-game schedule, would limit a school's flexibility in scheduling top-tier nonconference opponents to boost its Ratings Percentage Index, one measure the selection committee uses in determining a school's power.