Could SLU be affected by Catholic schools leaving Big East?

7:39 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
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Mark Blaudschun, Special for USA TODAY Sports

The decision to leave has been made. Now the question is when and how to do it.

The seven Catholic basketball members of the Big East Conference have decided to announce their departure from the league, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The two spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to remain confidential.

An announcement that Villanova, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown and DePaul plan to break away is not likely to happen until the schools decide how they want to proceed.

When negotiations for a new television deal had projections twice and as much as three times smaller than the deal that was in place with ESPN, the Catholic schools met as a group with Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco to express their concerns. They met again on Sunday night in New York with a sense of unity they had not previously felt or displayed.

Finally, after deliberating, the collective decision was that it would be best to end the arrangement with the Big East as it currently is structured. Although Aresco made repeated efforts Thursday to reach some compromise that would keep the Catholic schools in the Big East, the odds of that happening appear to be minimal at best.

Now, the biggest problem will be how to get through the break up as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The problem facing both the departing schools and Aresco is in the settlement terms.

The basketball schools have two options. They could withdraw as a group. Normally that would entail an exit fee of at least $10 million and a 27-month waiting period. But in 2003 former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese pushed through an agreement that would eliminate the exit fees for either the football side of the conference or the basketball side if they left as a group. A two-year waiting period would still be enforced.

But by leaving, the basketball schools would forfeit receiving their part of the growing total of exit fees that have been paid or will be paid by Big East schools such as West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers, all which have left or are in the process of leaving the conference. They also would forfeit the valuable Big East "name'' and other residuals, including an automatic berth in the NCAA basketball tournament.

To avoid this predicament, the Catholic schools could push through a vote distributing the exit fee assets immediately and also negotiate a deal where they would take the Big East name with them.

The second option is more radical. The Catholic schools could vote to dissolve the league. With seven votes out of 10 being cast (Connecticut, South Florida and Cincinnati are the others), the Catholic schools would have the two-thirds majority to pass that measure.

Once that is done, the outstanding bills of the league would be paid and the assets would then be divided among the 10 members. But everything else disappears including the current agreements in place with football and basketball, naming rights for each conference and the issue of spots in the new football system of playoffs and bowl games and the NCAA tournament spot that is guaranteed to the Big East tournament champion.

"It's a very involved process, and I'm not sure if the basketball schools have anyone in place to orchestrate that,' said one of the officials. "No matter what the ultimate decision, it's going to take some time.''

The break-up of the basketball/football partnership in the Big East has been an inner-conference issue for several years, dating to the mid-1990s, when the basketball side of the league was also seriously considering breaking away because they felt that the football schools were dominating all legislation.

The resentment was based on two main issues. The Big East was founded by former commissioner Dave Gavitt in 1979 as a basketball league. When Tranghese followed Gavitt, he recognized the increased revenue potential provided by football and in 1991 the Big East football league was formed with Miami as the cornerstone of the conference.

While football flourished for a while and the money flow was steady, it started to decline a decade ago when the Atlantic Coast Conference made the first major conference reconfiguration move by taking Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College from the Big East.

Since that time, the Big East has been the target of conference poaching, with the ACC adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh, Notre Dame in all sports but football and Louisville. The Big 12 added West Virginia and the Big Ten took Rutgers.

The Big East tried to counter the attack by expanding far beyond its geographic footprint, grabbing Boise State, San Diego State, Navy and East Carolina in football and SMU, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida, Tulane and Temple in all sports.

While this was happening, the non-football playing, Big East Catholic schools fretted over the loss of such longtime rivals as Louisville, Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

They tolerated the changes because the Big East's television contract with ESPN was bringing in additional cash to their funds, but there were more and more questions on whether the money was enough to offset the loss of comfort of the Big East Catholic schools.




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