SBD/December 14, 2012/Colleges

Basketball-Only Big East Schools Reportedly Have Plans In Place For New Conference

Butler, which just joined the A-10 in '12, could leave for the new league
The new basketball-centric conference that the seven non-FBS Big East schools will be a part of will "include 10 or 12 teams, have a reasonable television contract and possible rotating sites for its league tournament," according to sources cited in a front-page piece by Michael Hunt of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. Butler and Xavier "could leave the Atlantic 10 to join the new unnamed league," and Creighton, VCU, Dayton or St. Louis could "become the 10th team, or the conference could begin play with 12 teams if three schools vying for the 10th spot are all worthy candidates." Sources said that the decision to "form the new league has already been made." The only "holdup" is Georgetown President John DeGioia, who is "struggling with the idea of his school leaving the Big East." Once DeGioia "signs on, an announcement on the formation of the league, which would begin play next season, could come as early as Friday." If the Big East dissolves, the new league would "consider adopting the Big East name." A source said that each school's share from a TV contract "should be no less than the $1.5 million it receives from the Big East." There is a possibility that the first league tournament "could be played at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse or stay in New York at Madison Square Garden." The site would "then most likely rotate, with the possibility of Milwaukee playing host if a new arena is built." Buyout terms "have not been determined for the departing schools, but if all the Catholic schools leave the Big East, the conference may not be able to recoup a withdrawal fee" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 12/14). SI.com's Pete Thamel noted the schools involved in the breakaway from the Big East "stress that ... they no longer want their fate tied to mediocre football and a group of schools with little in common." Marquette AD Larry Williams earlier this week said, "What's football going to look like in 15 years? ... 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?" (SI.com, 12/13).

DECISIONS TO BE MADE STILL: In N.Y., Lenn Robbins reports the official announcement of a new conference "could be delayed until they decide what exit route to take." The seven schools "must decide whether to leave as one or to dissolve the conference." A source said that Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco was "working to avoid the second option because it would be more legally messy." Robbins notes if the seven schools break away, they would "not have to pay any exit fees, but they wouldn't receive any revenue from the exit fees to be collected" from Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Rutgers and Notre Dame. They also would "forfeit the Big East name and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament." If the seven schools "opt to dissolve the conference, all 10 current Big East schools would share any assets." The league would "lose its automatic bid in the tournament and all of its agreements -- such as the deal to play in the Garden -- would be voided." A source said that they "intended to keep their postseason tournament in the Garden." The new Big East likely "would launch its own network and sell off marquee games." The fate of schools such as UConn, Cincinnati, South Florida and Temple "remains uncertain." Robbins notes the split is "not about finances," but rather it is "philosophical" (N.Y. POST, 12/14). ESPN.com's McMurphy, Katz & O'Neil cited a source as saying that Aresco told the ADs "of the remaining and incoming schools on Thursday evening that he expects the seven schools will leave the Big East." The source said that since the seven schools are "leaving as a group, they can use a league clause that eliminates the exit fee for a collective departure." However, the schools would "have to honor the league's requirement to provide 27 months' notice." It is "unknown who would keep the Big East name" (ESPN.com, 12/13).

HOOP DREAMS: In N.Y., Harvey Araton writes this potential move is an "opportunity for the Big East Seven to stand up and say enough, stand for a basketball league that again makes sense." Araton: "Put out feelers to Philadelphia programs like St. Joseph's and LaSalle. Make a play for Xavier in the Cincinnati market; inquire about the availability of Butler. ... Bailing on what's left of the Big East is the only way to reconstitute and save what had been its signature postseason tournament at the Garden in the heart of New York" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/14). USA TODAY's Mike Lopresti writes the breakaway schools "need the right immigrants to make a league." Lopresti: "A Dayton, an Xavier, a Creighton, a St. Louis. But that means the poachees become the poachers, doing to the Atlantic 10 what has been done unto them" (USA TODAY, 12/14).

WALKING INTO A STORM: In DC, John Feinstein writes one has to "feel sorry for Aresco, who was hired in August to become commissioner of college athletics' version of the Titanic." With Syracuse and Pittsburgh "defecting to the ACC, Aresco was given the task of holding the league together and trying to carve out a new TV deal that would satisfy the league's university presidents' insatiable appetites for money." Instead, he "watched helplessly as Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville added to the carnage by jumping ship." Trying to "replace those three schools with the likes of Tulane, Central Florida and Memphis wasn't going to cut it with the basketball schools" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/14). ESPN's Jay Bilas said, "It seemed inevitable there would be a split among the basketball and football schools, because their interests were so different. It's regrettable. But it was in a way predictable." Bilas said that when former Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt "hatched the Big East in 1979, it was a marriage of television and basketball." In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley wrote the current, proposed move also "involves television and basketball." ESPN's Dan Dakich: "Isn't it funny. Television made the Big East and now television is destroying the Big East" (JSONLINE.com, 12/13).

DON'T BLAME US: CBSSPORTS.com’s Jeremy Fowler wrote Tulane is “getting blasted as one of the reasons the seven Catholic basketball schools are looking for a new home.” But David Munn, a Tulane booster and St. Bernard Parish Green Wave Club President, said that it is “not Tulane’s fault the basketball programs are unhappy.” Munn: “We got an invitation, we thought it was a good one and we took it. I can understand the frustration, but they should be angry at the founding members of the Big East who left. They were being carried by these big schools with big followings.” Tulane AD Rick Dickson was not available for comment Thursday (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/13).

WHITHER UCONN? In Hartford, Paul Doyle reports the status of UConn athletic teams is "in limbo," as the college would "not seem to be a candidate to join the basketball-only schools in a new league." A source said that UConn "wants to remain with the Big East's current and future football schools." Temple joined in football this year and "will be a full member next year." But if Boise State and San Diego State "back out of commitments, UConn will be left in a conference with a diminished football and basketball product." Another option is "joining a lesser conference such as the Mid-American Conference, but UConn is more likely to remain with the current and future Big East schools or even have an independent football program." UConn AD Warde Manuel said the reported defections recently-added West Coast schools were "rumors." He added that he has "talked to his counterparts at other Big East schools" (HARTFORD COURANT, 12/14). Also in Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes it does not "get any lower for the UConn brand." UConn President Susan Herbst "has to be smarting," and Manuel "has to be hurting" as well. Jacobs: "When the likes of Seton Hall, DePaul and Providence commandeer the wheel of your athletic future, it is more than infuriating. It is humiliating" (HARTFORD COURANT, 12/14). In N.Y., Dick Weiss writes unless the ACC "throws the Huskies a lifeline," UConn "could be a step away from Conference USA." It is "hard to feel sympathy for Herbst or the Huskies, who thought they were better than the company they kept and showed little empathy for the Big East." UConn did not "respect the camaraderie and affiliation with the non-football schools, so it is only appropriate that the Huskies, who gained warmth under the big blanket of the Big East, have been left out in the cold in this game of musical chairs" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/14).

KNIGHT MOVES: In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes the time has come for UCF to "vacate their state of denial and stop acting like everything is just fine with the Big East." They must "accept reality, stop the membership process before it goes any further and start immediately exploring other options." UCF should "not pay a dime -- let alone millions of dollars -- to join a league that is really no better than the one they are leaving" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 12/14). Meanwhile, Navy AD Chet Gladchuk said that Navy, which is scheduled to move to the Big East in '15 for football only, is "continually 'reviewing all the moving parts' and will figure out where its football program will land once the other schools decide where they are going." Gladchuk said his initial interest in joining the Big East was to "emphasize stability" but that has changed (Baltimore SUN, 12/14).

LAWSUIT UP! ESPN's Steve Levy said there is "no way this will be a clean break" from the Big East by the seven schools. Levy: "This will be messy, it could even be tied up in the courts for some time.” Katz: “There will be definitely lawyers involved in all of this.” Katz said this is “just the nature of college athletics right now” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 12/13). The Chicago Tribune’s Brian Hamilton said, "There’s going to be so much lawyering going on in this” ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 12/13). 
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