It was just four seasons ago that the Big East -- the unquestioned giant of college hoops -- earned a record three No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

All three -- Louisville, UConn and Pittsburgh -- marched to the Elite Eight. So did Villanova, which ousted Pitt in the regional final. The true dominance of this league, particularly throughout the 2000s, was something to behold.

So, University of Connecticut fans, get a little sappy, sort of like a teenage girl dealing with an emotional breakup. Jog your memory to the good times. Take a deep breath and recite the cheesiest of heartbroken teen anthems: "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."

And now you can be an adult and freak out because no one knows what the heck is next.

If you're one of the few that stayed positive through the departures of West Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville, I applaud you. I also give you permission to finally hit that panic button. It's time, my friend.

Multiple reports confirmed Thursday that the seven non-football Big East schools -- Marquette, Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and DePaul -- are leaving the once-almighty conference.

UConn officials had no comment. And why would they? What is there to say?

"We're excited to begin a riveting rivalry with Tulane and Southern Methodist" or "We wish our rivals of 30 years the best ... good for them" or "Why us?"

That's a brilliant question, actually. Why UConn? Of the hundred or so schools affected (in some way) by conference realignment, UConn is the biggest loser.

Some want to blame this mess on UConn President Susan Herbst and athletic director Warde Manuel. Truth is, though, it's far more complex than UConn "not trying hard enough."

Herbst put it best last week.

"Many people believe that the conference realignment is somehow in the control of individual leaders or institutions, and it's not that simple," Herbst wrote in an email to Hearst Connecticut. "As you know, it involves television markets, population density, long histories of university athletics programs, and a variety of other factors."

Football is chief among them. If the Huskies had a more promising product, maybe the breakup of the Big East would merely trigger a sentimental reaction from UConn fans, not a rush of fear and panic.

In the current landscape, it's difficult to imagine UConn football ever becoming anything more than a good mid-major (after all, the Huskies are in a mid-major football league now). Problem is, they're in a mid-major basketball league, too, and that's just not right. Now, UConn must begin damage control. It must turn a terrible situation into something more manageable (but still pretty bad).

Barring an unexpected invitation to the ACC or B1G, there are two plausible options: Stay put in the Big East (if the league isn't dissolved, of course) and dominate in hoops. Or, if the Catholic Seven is interested, the Huskies can follow and somehow convince the Big East to let it become a football-only member. Now that would take some skill from Herbst and Manuel.

In that scenario, UConn football can still compete for an automatic berth in the BCS playoffs (worth upwards of $20 million, according to a USA Today report) and the basketball team can reap the benefits of facing its longtime rivals, plus the possibility of Xavier, VCU and Butler.

That's as ideal as it'll get.

If UConn basketball ends up flourishing -- and I'm talking consistently battling for a high NCAA seed, like it was during the Golden Age of the Big East -- you can thank Kevin Ollie. The guy is used to overcoming adversity, but damn, this is a brutal situation.

Ollie can sell UConn's tradition (although, if the Huskies stay in the Big East, he can't sell traditional opponents) and his NBA experience. But when he's fighting high-majors for top talent, a schedule of Memphis, Temple, Central Florida and Cincinnati isn't exactly inspiring. Sounds like a mid-major schedule. So does Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's and Providence. Sounds like UConn is in a mid-major league either way.

I've always believed that any program can stand tall despite a mediocre conference if it makes consistent NCAA tournament runs. The facts, though, say otherwise: Memphis hasn't escaped the first round since John Calipari left. Gonzaga has made it to the Sweet 16 -- and no further -- twice in the past decade. Excluding Calipari's Memphis squads, 32 mid-majors have crashed the last 10 regional finals; only nine advanced past that round. Only two programs -- Butler and Xavier-- have done it twice.

Put it this way: 71 of the past 80 Elite Eight qualifiers were from power conferences.

Heck, the Big East had four of them in one season. In the past 10 years, the league had eight Final Four teams, tops in the nation.

It was a memorable run, that's for sure. On this day, Pittsburgh and Syracuse and St. John's and Georgetown can smile because it happened. Seven of the eight founding members have landed on solid ground. Somehow, UConn finds itself left behind.

Maybe one day UConn can get all gushy about 33 years in America's best basketball league. Just don't expect it to be for a while.; @KevinRDuffy