PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Mike Tranghese, who presided over the Big East's expansion from a basketball conference to one of college football's top-tier leagues, is leaving as commissioner next year.

Tranghese, 64, who became commissioner in 1990, said yesterday he would step down at the end of next June while the conference was enjoying unprecedented success. No successor has been chosen.

"I'm a little Italian kid from Springfield, Mass., who couldn't play. I was a manager," Tranghese said on a conference call. "And I got to be commissioner of the Big East Conference for 19 years. It's a fairy tale."

Under Tranghese, the Big East eventually expanded to 16 schools to become the largest Division I-A conference in the nation, a move that saved the league when it appeared football would break it apart.

The league added five schools in 2005 following the high-profile defections of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech - all football powers - to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tranghese said the conference's ability to absorb those losses and remain intact was his proudest memory as commissioner.

"The vast majority of people wrote us off for dead," Tranghese said.

To replace the schools that left for the ACC, Tranghese brought Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida into the league, as well as traditional basketball powers Marquette and De Paul, bringing membership to the current 16.

Tranghese has been with the conference since it formed in 1979 and was its first full-time employee as an assistant commissioner. The conference was largely known in its early years as a basketball juggernaut, sending three schools - Villanova, St. John's and Georgetown - to the 1985 Final Four, still the only time that has happened. *