Mike Tranghese built the Big East into one of the most lucrative and successful basketball conferences in the nation. He also made sure it had a piece of the growing Bowl Championship Series pie in football.

Yesterday, he announced he was stepping down as commissioner.

Tranghese, 64, commissioner of the Providence, R.I.-based conference since 1990, said he would leave office on June 30, 2009. He said his primary reason was what he called "an incredible fear of flying."

"I'm not sick. I haven't been forced out, and I'm not going to be looking for another job," Tranghese said in a conference call. "But my fear of flying has grown to new levels, and that's probably my biggest motivation" for calling it quits.

"I just wanted to leave when I thought we'd be in good shape and in a position to succeed," he said. "I think our conference is better than we've ever been, so I thought now is the right time."

After spending nine years as associate commissioner, then succeeding Dave Gavitt as commissioner, Tranghese shepherded the Big East into Division I football in 1991 as a charter member of the BCS.

Temple was a member of the Big East in football - its only link to the conference - but was voted out because it failed to meet criteria established by the league in attendance and non-conference scheduling. The Owls played their final Big East season in 2004 and have since joined the Mid-American Conference.

The league rebounded from the loss of Virginia Tech and Miami after the 2003-04 season and Boston College after 2004-05. It retains an eight-team football circuit with Rutgers, South Florida and Connecticut receiving national attention in the last year.

"When we lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, a lot of people wrote us off for dead," Tranghese said. "We survived it and were able to reorganize it. I think we're better than we've ever been."

The Big East has 16 teams for basketball, most of any league in the country, but a number that has been difficult to deal with.

With expansion to the current number in 2005, men's basketball teams did not play every other team in the conference until last season, when the league schedule grew from 16 to 18 games.

The league invited only 12 teams to the Big East postseason tournament in New York, excluding the bottom four, but will have all 16 compete next season on the urging of conference presidents.

Villanova has been a member of the Big East since 1980, its second year of operation. The Wildcats compete in all conference sports except football.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.