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Seven Big East schools considering leaving conference

The basketball-only schools, which are the heart of the conference, appear set to separate and form their own league. The possible effect on Big East football is unclear.

December 13, 2012|Chris Dufresne

The exact timing of the Big East's imminent implosion is not particularly important.

One outlet reported the news would hit Thursday. Another outlet reported it would not.

The "big" news did not break, as it turned out, but it is breaking.

College sports is about to get hit with another thunder clap of reconfiguration and dismemberment as it appears the Big East's seven basketball-only schools are set to separate and form their own league.

The move could end Big East football as we know it and send another ripple of reconstruction through the ever-changing conference landscape.

The process is messy, almost like a divorce, according to sources.

"It's complex, just because of the differences of the schools in the first place," said a person familiar with the situation who did not want to be quoted because of the sensitive nature of the process.

The seven basketball schools — Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Villanova, Georgetown, DePaul and Marquette — represent the heart of the conference dating to its establishment in 1979.

Big East football did not start crowning champions until 1991 (the Catholic schools continue to play football at the Football Championship Subdivision level).

The most likely scenario is the Catholic schools will withdraw from the league and negotiate to keep the Big East name. They would probably add at least three schools to become a 10-team league.

That would seemingly assure the league of keeping its automatic bid status in the NCAA tournament.

Mike Aresco, the Big East's recently appointed commissioner, has tried to hold the basketball schools together as he attempts to negotiate a television deal with what's left of his football division.

The Big East is losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Rutgers recently announced it was leaving to join the Big Ten.

The Big East has responded by cobbling together football schools from all across the country. San Diego State and Boise State are set to join the conference next year in football. Other future members include Houston, Southern Methodist, Memphis, Tulane, East Carolina and Central Florida.

Temple, kicked out of the Big East in 2004, has already been invited back.

The basketball schools see the new lineup as a logistical nightmare with no foreseeable financial upside.

Aresco told the schools they could essentially form their own division in basketball with very few crossover games with the football schools.

There will not be enough money in the new television contract, however, to offset the headaches. recently reported the disjointed Big East might command only $60 million to $80 million per year in its new television deal. That is substantially less than other major conferences have recently negotiated.

The Pac-12, for example, signed a 12-year, $3-billion deal with ESPN and Fox.

The Big East, without basketball, becomes less valuable to the networks.

The irony is the Big East recently walked away from a deal with ESPN thinking it could garner more on the open market.

What happens to Big East football now is unclear. The conference had no immediate public comment to the swirling speculation.

The league was already set to be downgraded when the new playoff format begins in 2014.

The Big East is currently one of six "automatic qualifier" conferences in the Bowl Championship Series. Starting in 2014, however, the league will join the Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt and Conference USA in the so-called "Group of Five."

Only the top-ranked school among those five leagues, as determined by a selection committee, will receive an automatic bid to a major bowl. The bulk of the major berths will go to the five power conferences: Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern and ACC.

If the Big East basketball schools bolt, Big East football has limited options.

It could attempt to stay together or, perhaps, merge with an existing conference and fight on as a member of the new "Group of Four."

The splinter would surely make San Diego State and Boise State reconsider their proposed moves to the Big East next season. The schools were leaving the Mountain West to secure a better television deal and to gain "BCS" status in the Big East.

The Big East is already losing its "AQ" status after next season, though, and the TV package may fall way short of expectations.

There have reportedly been discussions about San Diego State and Boise State possibly returning to the Mountain West.

Where everyone else ends up in this scattered mess is yet to be determined.

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