NEW YORK — The Big East is headed for another break up. This time, the seven prominent basketball schools that don’t play FBS football are planning to break away from the ever-changing conference.
The divorce is expected to be complicated, maybe even contentious, with millions of dollars and possibly the future of the league at stake.
The Big East’s non-football members decided Thursday to separate from the conference, a person familiar with the decision told the Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because officials from those schools are still sorting through details and trying to figure how best to split from the conference. No official announcement is imminent.
The seven schools that don’t play FBS-level football are St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence, and Villanova. Officials at those schools have concerns about the direction of the conference and feel as if they have little power to influence it. Commissioner Mike Aresco conferred by phone with the leaders of those seven schools earlier in the day, according to another person familiar with the situation, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
The current Big East football membership includes only four schools — South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple — that are committed to the league beyond 2013. But there are 11 schools with plans to join the Big East in the next three years, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only in 2013.
Because those schools won’t be members until next summer, the majority of the voting members of the Big East are basketball schools right now. Still, those schools aren’t in position to dissolve the conference. That would take the votes of at least two football members.
The Catholic schools can leave without financial penalty. The Big East has provisions in its bylaws that allow a group of schools to leave without exit fees. But what they would do remains unclear, as are the legal ramifications. There has been speculation those seven basketball schools could merge with the Atlantic 10 or possibly add schools from that league to create a basketball-only conference of smaller Catholic schools.
One of the many things that will need to be sorted out is who owns the rights to the name Big East. Will it stay with new members or go with the old? Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and St John’s were among the original members of the conference when it was formed primarily for basketball in 1979. Villanova came in a year later. Marquette and DePaul came in 2005, the Big East’s last previous major expansion.
Most importantly there are millions of dollars that both sides will likely claim at least some ownership of, including NCAA Tournament money that is paid out every five years based on appearances, about $70 million in exit fees the Big East has collected from the recent departures and future possible exit fees from the latest members to announce they are leaving — Rutgers and Louisville.
What would happen to the current and future football members also is unknown. They could simply stick together and continue on the path they are headed. But if the basketball side of the Big East is weakened it could decrease the value of the conference to television networks. The league is currently trying to negotiate a crucial TV contract, but instability has made it impossible.