Dave Gavitt, who founded the Big East Conference and was one of the influential voices behind creating the 64-team bracket for men’s basketball, died Friday in a hospital near his hometown of Rumford, R.I. He was 73.
Gavitt served as the Big East’s first commissioner from 1979 until 1990. He served on the NCAA’s Division I Basketball Committee from 1980 to 1984 and was its chair from 1982 to 1984 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams and the first of its contracts with CBS was negotiated.
“Dave simply was one of the NCAA’s most outstanding leaders over a lengthy period,” said Tom Jernstedt, who oversaw the Division I Men’s Basketball tournament for more than three decades, including Gavitt’s time as chair of the committee.
“He was a tremendous visionary and remarkably creative. Some of the bracketing procedures that he and his committee established are still in place. Dave was a gifted individual and administrator who had an extraordinary ability to build consensus and work with all those around him.”
When the NCAA’s Champion magazine interviewed Gavitt in 2010 to celebrate 25 years of the expanded bracket, Gavitt said the committee at that time believed it positioned the tournament “as a truly national event, while also accommodating membership interests.”
“We thought 64 was the right number to provide access to everybody,” Gavitt said.
Gavitt, a member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, coached Providence to the Final Four in 1973 and started the Big East offices there in 1979.
He was selected to coach the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, but the United States boycotted the Moscow Games. Gavitt was president of USA Basketball and oversaw the introduction of NBA players onto the U.S. Olympic roster, including the Dream Team at the 1992 Games.
When he left the Big East, Gavitt succeeded the legendary Red Auerbach in running the Boston Celtics, a post he held until 1994.
Gavitt served as chair of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and he worked as tournament director of the Maui Invitational from 2005 until 2009.
Gavitt played basketball and baseball at Dartmouth, graduating in 1959. He was an assistant coach at Providence for two years before starting his head coaching career in 1967 at Dartmouth.
He assumed the top post at Providence in 1969 and led the Friars to a 209-84 record over 10 seasons with a .713 winning percentage that is still the best in school history. He became athletics director there in 1971.
The Big East formed in 1979, with original members Providence, Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John’s (New York), Seton Hall, Boston College and Connecticut. Villanova joined the next year. Gavitt immediately orchestrated a relationship with ESPN, which was introduced that same year.
“His impact on the sport of basketball was far-reaching and perhaps unsurpassed,” Jernstedt said. “Dave had the unique ability to bring out the best in people. He left such a positive impression and influence on nearly everyone he touched or had been around during his career.”