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Volume 24 No. 159


The Big East has "put together a framework of an agreement that will allow member schools known as the Catholic 7 to break away from" the conference in July and take the Big East name, according to a source cited by Mark Blaudschun in a special to USA TODAY. The source said that the agreement "on the split could be announced Thursday and that the Big East football schools expect to have a new conference name and a new site for the conference basketball tournament." The source added that the "main negotiations have involved how to split a Big East cash reserve that is in excess of $100 million and comes from exit fees paid by Big East schools that have left or are leaving the conference, as well as the lucrative basketball shares earned in the NCAA tournament by conference schools and a pair of conference reserve funds." Cincinnati, South Florida and UConn "will be the primary beneficiaries, with each school expected to be paid" between $15-20M. The Catholic 7 schools "are still negotiating their share, which ... is likely to be somewhere" between $3-5M. The other Big East football schools are "expected to split another $10 million." Hartford's XL Center is the "likely first stop in what will be" a rotating series of sites for a conference basketball tournament (USA TODAY, 3/5). Fox Sports is expected to announce a media rights deal with the Catholic 7 today, and in Richmond, Paul Woody writes the net will "swell with pride to have the Big East, once one of the great basketball conferences in the country." But the "product Fox is getting might not be the product it thinks it is buying." The new Big East has "two schools with excellent records in recent years, Georgetown and Marquette, three schools that are mediocre, Villanova, St. John’s and Providence, and two teams that struggle, Seton Hall and DePaul." The new Big East "needs Butler and Xavier not just to give teams 16 regular-season conference games, and Fox ample programming, but also to upgrade the product" (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, 3/5).

DOING WHAT HAD TO BE DONE: Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino during ESPN's coverage of the team's game against Cincinnati last night talked about the changes to the Big East, and he noted they were "being dictated by all the football programs because of money.” He said of the non-football schools, “Yes, they were getting more money. But they were sitting back as spectators and policy being dictated to them when they should have dictated it themselves because they had one of the most special basketball ingredients, as well as other sports, ever existed. So now breaking away, they'll have it once again. They'll add to their seven schools, they'll have a great basketball tradition and policy will not be dictated by one sport for the rest of them, so I admire what they've done." ESPN’s Sean McDonough noted, “Whatever this Big East now is going to be called next year is still going to be a pretty good basketball league.” ESPN’s Bill Raftery noted Pitino recommended ESPN’s Jay Bilas to be the commissioner of the new conference, to which Bilas replied, “He also recommended me for captain of the Titanic" (“Cincinnati-Louisville,” ESPN, 3/4).

BLUE SKIES: In Omaha, Henry Cordes writes if Creighton is "ultimately invited to join fellow Catholic universities in a new basketball-centric Big East Conference, its biggest consideration in whether to make the move might not even be an athletic one." As a Jesuit institution that "draws nearly two-thirds of its student body from beyond the boundaries of its home state, Creighton, by membership in the new league, would put its name and image in some of the nation's largest media markets." Representing a "major step up in athletic competition and prestige, a move to join the so-called 'Catholic 7' schools in a new Big East Conference would carry all kinds of implications for the Creighton campus." Cordes: "Regardless of what ultimately happens ... college athletics observers here and nationally say it's not at all surprising that Creighton would receive strong consideration from the new league. The school represents a good fit, academically and athletically" (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, 3/5).

The St. Louis Univ. men's basketball team's average attendance for home conference games "is up by almost 1,000 over last season, and ticket revenue is up overall," according to Tom Timmermann of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. SLU sits atop the Atlantic 10 Conference standings with a 23-5 record and is ranked in the top 16 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches' polls, and interest in the team "has exploded since late January." The team's home finale against La Salle this Saturday is "almost sold out," making it the team's "fifth crowd of more than 10,000" at the 10,600-seat Chaifetz Arena. Fans also are taking to the road to see the team, as "about 500" supporters traveled to the Feb. 22 game at Butler. SLU's alumni office figures that was the "most ever at a road game." The crowds "are big in cyberspace too," as the Butler game generated "so much traffic on the independent fan page that its server crashed." SLU made last season's NCAA tournament, but the berth "didn't lead to much of a change in the team's season-ticket base." However, AD Chris May "expects that number will go up next season, helped by the potential for another strong SLU team." May said, "The end product has implications across the board, whether it's ticket sales, fund-raising, recruiting or recruiting other student-athletes." Another place where May is "looking for gains is on TV, where SLU had 24 of 30 regular season games broadcast by someone this season." Meanwhile, the school is being mentioned as a candidate to join the new Big East, and Timmermann wrote it is "obvious that, if asked, SLU will say yes" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/4).

TECH SUPPORT: In Atlanta, Ken Sugiura reported the Georgia Tech men's basketball team sold about 4,400 season tickets for the inaugural season at McCamish Pavilion, "meeting the goal set prior to the start of the season." The school averaged 7,288 per game at the 8,600-seat arena and has earned $4.13M "in total revenue, including ticket sales and contributions to the TECH Fund." That marks a 19.6% increase in attendance from '10-11, the last season the team played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and a 13.2% total revenue increase. Attendance is 47.9% better than last year, when GT split time between Philips Arena and Gwinnett Center, "with a 100.7 percent improvement in total revenues." GT Associate AD/Sales & Fan Experience Rick Thorpe said, "The attendance has done as well as we could have expected. The support has been fantastic." Sugiura noted fans were "largely enthusiastic" about McCamish Pavilion, though some "did have issue with Tech's longstanding challenges with traffic and parking and also the limited options at concession stands" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 3/3).