By Shannon Ryan The Chicago Tribune
After decades of basketball excellence, the Big East Conference is undergoing a seismic shift that will make the conference unidentifiable.
Seven Catholic schools that don’t have Bowl Subdivision football programs — DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova — are splitting from the conference. The schools are working on the details of the departure, a plan that “literally changes by the hour,” a source told the Chicago Tribune.
Multiple reports Thursday said the seven schools will form a new conference and add other members that share a basketball emphasis. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing Marquette sources, said Butler and Xavier will leave the Atlantic 10 for the new conference, with Creighton, Dayton, Saint Louis and Virginia Commonwealth other candidates for membership in what would be a 10- or 12-team conference.
The only potential holdup is Georgetown struggling with the idea of leaving the Big East, the paper said.
The schools’ presidents held a conference call with Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco to discuss their concerns about the direction of the conference, according to multiple reports. A DePaul spokesman said the school didn’t have comment.
The schools can depart without having to pay exit fees because of bylaws that relate to a group of schools leaving together.
The potential move already has had a ripple effect. Notre Dame, which planned to join the ACC in all sports but football and ice hockey, might hasten its move because of the pending dismantling of the Big East, Irish basketball coach Mike Brey told the Tribune. Notre Dame and Louisville could jump to the ACC next season along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
The conference has been in turmoil for more than a year. As more football-centric schools were added and Big East mainstays such as Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced their impending departures, the remaining teams began to question the conference’s direction and identity.
In addition to the losses of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame, West Virginia has moved to the Big 12 and Rutgers will join the Big Ten.
In place of the departed schools, the Big East added Temple and is to welcome Houston, SMU, Memphis, Central Florida, Boise State and San Diego State next season. Tulane and East Carolina are scheduled to join in 2014 and Navy in 2015.
Boise State, San Diego State, East Carolina and Navy would be members in football only.
None of those schools would be a member until next summer, so the schools without FBS football programs could vote to dissolve the conference.
The ramifications of Thursday’s news could be far-reaching. Some schools could change course and decide to opt out of joining a radically reshaped Big East. The only current Big East football members that would be in the conference beyond next season are South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple.
“What’s football going to look like in 15 years?” Marquette athletic director Larry Williams told WAUK-AM 540 in Milwaukee this week. “They may not be in the power position they are in today. How do we as an elite basketball program fit into the landscape of this football-dominated environment? I don’t have a complete answer for you, but that’s the question.”
The conference has been trying to secure a television contract that could bring in a reported $60 million to $100 million annually. The departures would be a significant blow to working out that deal.
The Big East was formed in 1979 primarily as a basketball conference. Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s were charter members, and Villanova joined a year later.
DePaul and Marquette left Conference USA in 2005 to join the Big East. But the conference looks much different now.
And could look even more different soon.