Posted: Dec 15, 2012 10:32 PM
Updated: Dec 15, 2012 10:33 PM
The seven Big East schools that don't play major college football have decided to leave the conference and pursue a new basketball framework.
The presidents of the seven, non-FBS schools made the announcement Saturday, saying it was a unanimous vote. The schools: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova.
Big East spokesperson John Paquette told ESPN.com the seven schools will leave on June 30, 2015, per conference bylaws. Those bylaws require departing members to give the conference 27 months' notice, but the league has negotiated early departures with several schools during the past year. Big East rules do allow schools to leave as a group without being obligated to pay exit fees.
The statement in which the seven Catholic schools announced their departure gave no details about their plans, such as whether they would attempt to keep the Big East name.
"Earlier today we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established," the seven presidents said in a joint statement. "Under the current context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward."
The move leaves the futures of Connecticut, a founding member of the league in 1979, Cincinnati and South Florida -- three current members with FBS programs -- up in the air.
"The tragedy that took place in Newtown on Friday should be the focus of the thoughts of the people in Connecticut and all Husky fans this weekend," UConn president Susan Herbst said in a statement. "The University of Connecticut believes that the Big East Conference will continue to be a strong and exciting conference that is comprised of highly regarded national universities.
"We ask our fans to steer all passion and concern to Newtown, and we will honor those lost when we gather together as a university community for events this upcoming week."
Millions of dollars in NCAA basketball tournament money and exit fees collected from recently departed members also will need to be divvied up.
"The institutions that have been committed to men's basketball have made a decision that they are going to continue to stay committed to men's basketball," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said after the Warriors beat Savannah State in Milwaukee.
Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence helped form the Big East, which started playing basketball in 1979. Villanova joined in 1980, and Marquette and DePaul in 2005. The Big East began playing football in 1991.
"The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the Big East," commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. "The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East. The 13 members of the conference are confident and united regarding our collective future."
The Big East still is lined up to have a 12-team football conference next season with six new members, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only. Rutgers and Louisville, which both announced intentions to leave the Big East, still are expected to compete in the conference next year.
"It is our responsibility to do our due diligence to put the university, to put our athletics program and to put our student-athletes and coaches in the best position possible, and right now we feel this is the best position possible," Georgetown athletics director Lee Reed said. "Right now, we feel this is our best opportunity to continue to excel in our broad-based, basketball-centric model. It's given us a lot of success and we're proud of it and we're excited about the future."
Notre Dame, which is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, is also expected to continue competing in the Big East next season in all sports but football and hockey.
St. John's president, Rev. Donald J. Harrington, addressed the decision in a Saturday conference call.
"We're excited about it, because we believe that we can now play a role in shaping something kind of new and different in the world of collegiate athletics, in a time of great change, and we're convinced this will be better for our student-athletes and our fans," Harrington said.
"It's really premature at this time to know who might join what we're calling the core group of seven schools. We do know that there is interest, but we really will give discussions with other schools great attention in the months ahead, obviously. ... We would estimate 10 or 12 members are probably where we would want to be, but we want to make sure we have the strength. That's the important thing."
As for the departing seven, there already has been speculation they will try to align with other Catholic schools that have strong basketball programs, such as Xavier, Dayton, Creighton or even Gonzaga, which is located in Spokane, Wash.
"There's no target number (of members)," Lee said. "I think it would be safe to say that at the right time, at the proper time, that those things will be discussed and dealt with."
As for Cincinnati and Connecticut, which have been trying to get out of the Big East but have nowhere to go, they are trying to stay positive.
"We will work diligently to position (Cincinnati) in the most favorable light moving forward," Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock said. "We will continue to compete and win."
Bearcats men's basketball coach Mick Cronin said Saturday he wasn't surprised by the announcement.
"I don't blame them," Cronin said. "My take is it's a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this. The money that one sport is swinging around is swaying universities to make decisions. Don't tell me that people care about student-athletes.
"It's all ridiculous. Let's call it what it is. I've thought about this long and hard and I've waited to say this. If it's all about money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid."
Aresco was hired during the summer after a long career as a television executive, and given the task of trying to bring stability to the Big East and help negotiate a new lucrative television contract that could keep the league viable in the long run.
Since being hired, 10 more schools have announced they are leaving the conference, and television negotiations had to be put on hold after Louisville and Rutgers said they were leaving.
The Big East moved quickly to replace Rutgers and Louisville with Tulane (all sports) and East Carolina (football only), starting in 2014. The latest moves seem to have been the last straw for the basketball schools.