Sources: 7 leaning to leave Big East
Brett McMurphy, Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
December 13, 2012
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The presidents of the Big East's seven Catholic, non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools are expected to decide on their future in the Big East in the coming days, and it "would be an upset" if they remained in the league, sources told ESPN.

The seven schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova -- are "close to a consensus on what they want to do next," a source said Wednesday.

The presidents of the seven schools conducted a teleconference with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco on Thursday morning.

The presidents are expected to issue a statement on their schools' future in the next 24 to 48 hours, but a source from one of the Catholic schools told ESPN on Thursday morning that "our presidents continue to explore all possibilities."

If the seven schools decide to move to a new league, they would keep their automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. NCAA rules state that as long as a group of seven universities have been in the same league for five years, they would keep their bid after a move together.

On Sunday, the seven presidents met with Aresco in New York to discuss a number of options and "better understand the best course of action for the future," ESPN reported.

Sources told ESPN the seven schools discussed a number of options but most importantly wanted to have "lots of dialogue to better understand the best course of action for the future."

Sources said Wednesday it's becoming "more likely" the basketball schools will break away from the league's football members.

It's unknown whether they would attempt to dissolve the league or leave the league as a group. The league can be dissolved in a vote of the league members by a two-thirds majority, according to Big East bylaws. With all of the Big East's recent defections, only 10 members (the seven non-FBS schools plus Cincinnati, UConn and South Florida) can vote on the league dissolving.

A source told ESPN on Wednesday that Temple, as a football-only member, has voting rights but can't vote on dissolution of the league. With Temple unable to vote, that gives the seven basketball schools enough votes to dissolve the league.

Sources said there are multiple legal entanglements that make the voting situation "complex."

UConn president Susan Herbst has contacted officials from the non-FBS Big East members, pleading with them to stay in the league, sources told ESPN.

Ironically, Herbst, along with Cincinnati and South Florida officials, heavily lobbied to get out of the Big East and join the ACC when the league had to replace Maryland.

"I know this may seem like a tough moment for our fans, but we need to focus on the fundamentals of academic success across the university and in our athletic program as well," Herbst said in a statement when Louisville, and not UConn, was selected by the ACC last month.

The potential split of the seven Catholic schools should allow Notre Dame and Louisville to join Syracuse and Pitt in the ACC next season, one year ahead of schedule, Irish coach Mike Brey said Thursday.

Notre Dame was supposed to stay in the Big East for a 27-month period, which could mean as long as the 2015 season. But the Irish have been negotiating an early exit.

Brey also said the discussion among the Catholic schools was to make it a national Catholic conference with Xavier, Saint Louis, Dayton, Creighton, Gonzaga and possibly Saint Mary's as well.

If the seven basketball schools leave the Big East, it will be a crippling blow to the league's media-rights negotiations. Last week CBSSports.com projected the value of the Big East's media-rights revenue between $60 million and $80 million.

An industry source thought the figure would be closer to $50 million, he told ESPN on Tuesday. The estimates reported by CBSSports.com and ESPN both included the basketball schools as part of the package.

If the Big East loses the seven Catholic basketball schools, it would decrease the value of the league's media rights by "15 to 20 percent," an industry source said.

All these factors also could affect decisions by Boise State and San Diego State to join the league in 2013 as football-only members. Both schools have reiterated that they are committed to the Big East, but if the seven basketball schools leave, it could erase any potential financial gains Boise and SDSU would get from leaving the Mountain West for the Big East.

On Tuesday night, Marquette athletic director Larry Williams was critical of the future membership of the Big East.

"The Big East that Marquette joined in 2005, boy, that's a different looking animal going forward over the next couple of years," Williams told 540 ESPN Milwaukee. "It's prompted some deeper discussion what futures are for schools such as Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova."

In the past couple of years, seven Big East schools have announced they were leaving: West Virginia, Pittsburgh, TCU, Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Rutgers.

In their place, the Big East added Temple as a football-only member this year -- the Owls will be full members next year -- and will add Houston, SMU, Memphis, UCF, Boise State and San Diego State in 2013, Tulane and East Carolina in 2014, and Navy in 2015.

Houston, SMU, Memphis, UCF and Tulane will be full Big East members; Boise State, San Diego State, East Carolina and Navy will be football-only members.

A Big East source from a football-playing school told ESPN on Sunday, "The basketball schools are not thrilled with Tulane" and "would have fallen off the ledge if we would have added East Carolina as a full member."

Williams acknowledged he was "not pleased" specifically about adding Tulane.

"I was not pleased that we issued an invitation to Tulane without any diligence to what effect that would have on our basketball product, the draw on our RPI and other such things," Williams told 540 ESPN Milwaukee. "I was disappointed that I wasn't able to participate as a member of the conference in the deliberation that went into adding that."

Williams added that the Big East's other non-football schools felt the same way.

"Part of this is just everybody's uneasy with all these questions that everybody's got in their own minds," Williams told 540 ESPN Milwaukee. "There was something really cool about the Big East. You could rely on it to get six or eight or nine bids in a year.

"It was home. Now that home has been sort of changed, and somebody came and put new furniture in, and boy, do we still fit here is what everyone is sort of thinking about."

Brett McMurphy is a college football reporter for ESPN. Andy Katz is a senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com. Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com.

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