SBD/December 17, 2012/Colleges

Basketball-Only Big East Schools To Leave Conference; TV Deal Reportedly In The Works

Whether or not the departing schools fight to keep the Big East name is not yet known
The presidents of the seven Catholic, non-FBS Big East schools on Saturday announced they had unanimously voted to "leave the conference and pursue a new basketball framework," according to Katz, McMurphy & Darcy of ESPN.com. Big East Associate Commissioner/Communications John Paquette said that the schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova -- will "leave on June 30, 2015, per conference bylaws." Big East rules "allow schools to leave as a group without being obligated to pay exit fees." The seven presidents in a statement said they would "pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established." The statement "gave no details about their plans, such as whether they would attempt to keep the Big East name." There 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" (ESPN.com, 12/15). Sources said that St. John's President Donald Harrington was one of the "driving forces in the move to depart." In N.Y., Roger Rubin reported Harrington "played a role in convincing officials at Georgetown, the last school on board, to commit" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/16). In Philadelphia, Mike Jensen wrote the Big East "had become an unrecognizable amalgamation of schools scattered around the country because of marquee defections and a mass of additions" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/16). In DC, Patrick Stevens writes it is "refreshing to see universities with generally common philosophies band together rather than coalesce with others with wildly divergent long-term goals." It is what a conference "is supposed to be about" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/17). Providence President Brian Shanley said, "This is not about nostalgia. There is no going back to the way it was in the Big East" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 12/16).

TV FUNHOUSE: A source at one of the departing schools said that the group has "informally gauged the likelihood of landing a TV deal and it expects the members to get more than either the current reported $1.6 million annually it earns with the football schools or the amount Big East schools will get in a new deal that [Big East Commissioner Mike] Aresco is trying to strike." St. John's AD Chris Monasch said, "We feel comfortable we'll get a substantial package" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/16). Sources said that the seven schools "have already received interest in a deal which would earn them a fee comparable to what they would've received under a new football deal under the Big East umbrella" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 12/15). In DC, Liz Clarke wrote the breakaway is "a risk, however calculated and thoughtfully deliberated." Amid the "overheated scramble for college football programming, it's unclear what broadcasters will pay for rights to a basketball-centric league that hearkens back to an earlier era." But the "alternative of standing by while the Big East's basketball brand was diluted and its like-minded purpose undermined proved increasingly intolerable" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/16). In Orlando, Matt Murschel writes at the rate it is going, the remaining Big East schools will "be lucky to get a media rights deal with QVC." Murschel: "We have these 13 wonderful slightly used eager to please schools ... only five easy payments of $1 million" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 12/17). In N.Y., Harvey Araton wrote bailing on what is "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." Araton: "Something tells me a new conference ... would quickly find a home and a pretty fair deal on the World Wide Leader" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/14).

PROTECTING THE BRAND: A source said that the departing schools "may try to fight for the Big East name since they include more original members -- four -- than the remaining Big East -- one in UConn." But ESPN.com's Andy Katz wrote the fight "isn't worth having." Katz: "The best move would be to start fresh with a new identity." Negotiating a TV deal will be "critical in trying to lure teams out of the A-10 ... or possibly the MVC or WCC if the seven schools want to go national." The departing seven schools "will certainly approach Madison Square Garden to house their conference tournament" in '16 as MSG has "signed up with the Big East for another five years" (ESPN.com, 12/15). In N.Y., Lenn Robbins wrote the Big East name "is important because it is a known brand," which is "important to the football schools because the Big East has automatic-qualifier status to a BCS bowl." Moreover, the Big East Conference "holds the rights to the media deals and the contract with Madison Square Garden." A source said that both sides "want to get a deal done that would allow a split in time for the start of the 2013 football season and the 2013-2014 basketball season." The source added that a likely agreement would "result in the Catholic schools retaining the name, possibly with some financial remuneration to the football schools" (N.Y. POST, 12/16). Harrington said, "St. John's would love to keep the Big East name. I would like to hear what the football schools think and then try to make a compromise" (AP, 12/15). Villanova President Peter Donohue said retaining the Big East name is "important and it will be part of the negotiations going forward in the next couple of months" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/17).  

FOOTBALL'S IMPACT
: ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson wrote as much as the Big East "tried to forge its football identity, it never quite could given the dichotomy unique to this league, the only one among the major conferences that had to serve split interests" (ESPN.com, 12/15). BCS Exec Dir Bill Hancock said it is "premature and inappropriate" to determine whether the 12 remaining Big East football schools will receive an automatic bid in '13. A source said the Big East, "regardless of their status, would receive their AQ" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/14). Cincinnati men's basketball coach Mick Cronin said of the seven departing schools, "I don't blame them. It's a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this and the money that one sport apparently is swinging around and swaying universities to make the decisions. We're sitting here in a state where the state school is 800 miles from its closest road game. It's ridiculous. Don't tell me that people care about the student athletes." Cronin: "Lost in the shuffle in all this is our volleyball team, our soccer team, ... tennis team. 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 this much money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 12/16).

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD? SPORTING NEWS' Mike DeCourcy cited sources as saying that a potential new conference, in the "early stages of discussion, would be a cross-continent all-sports league involving disenfranchised members of the Big East as well as the most prominent members of the Mountain West." DeCourcy reported the proposed entrants "would be UConn, Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis, Temple, Boise State, San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico and possibly BYU or Central Florida." Such a league would "include football programs that are comparable and competitive, as well as extraordinary basketball featuring eight teams that reached the NCAA tournament last season." NBC Sports Network is "likely to be approached to gauge its interest in such a property" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 12/15). Seton Hall AD Pat Lyons said, "We're going to position ourselves among other institutions that we know share a similar philosophy and goals -- academically as well as athletically" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 12/15). In N.Y., Dick Weiss wrote it "seems only appropriate" that former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese "should shepherd the new league through this transition period." Sources said that he "would be interested -- if called upon -- in coming back as a consultant until the new league can hire a qualified commissioner who has no ties to any of the schools and can accurately see the big picture" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/16). 

AND FOR THOSE LEFT BEHIND?
 In Hartford, Altavilla, Amore & Conner wrote, "Standing amid the ruins of the Big East, UConn still holds out hope that the Atlantic Coast Conference will come calling." Until then, the school's athletic future is "tied to a collection of mostly unfamiliar colleges from all over the country" (HARTFORD COURANT, 12/16). In Cincinnati, Bill Koch wrote Univ. of Cincinnati officials are “paying the price for years of inaction on both Fifth Third Arena and Nippert Stadium and are only now trying to find a way to raise the money to refurbish Nippert, with athletic director Whit Babcock ... realizing that the pot of Big East TV gold he was counting on so heavily does not and will not exist” (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 12/16). Houston AD Mack Rhoades, whose school will move to the Big East in ’13, said, “We’re candidly disappointed, but the Big East moves on. ... We have some really good schools. We shouldn’t be ashamed of anything” (CHRON.com, 12/15). In New Orleans, Tammy Nunez wrote, "With the ink barely dry on Tulane president Scott Cowen’s signature on Big East acceptance papers, that league has changed dramatically -- and not for the better.” Local booster club Green Wave President Mike Johnston said, “In my opinion the Tulane administration parachuted onto the Titanic five minutes before it hit the iceberg and now we are being accused of being the iceberg” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/16). Marquette AD Larry Williams said, "We envision an orderly transition. We'd like to work with our current conference members to find appropriate solutions for both sides. We want this to be an amicable parting as we go our separate ways" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 12/16).
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