The Big East is on the brink of breaking up.
According to reports from the Providence Journal and ESPN.com, the seven Catholic schools in the conference are on the verge of breaking away from the Big East Conference and going their own way. Both reports said the seven schools would have a conference call with Commissioner Mike Aresco Thursday and then announce their plans within the next 24 to 48 hours.
An athletic department leader at one of the schools told the Journal Wednesday that “the train has left the station. Get on board or get run over.”
Sources told ESPN.com that it “would be an upset” if the Catholic schools remained in the Big East.
When asked if the Catholics were splitting, a separate Big East source told SNY.tv, “It sure appears that way.”
As we reported here earlier, the seven schools have a window between now and next summer to dissolve the league which began in 1979 by out-voting remaining all-sports members UConn, Cincinnati and South Florida.
The five schools leaving the league — Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Notre Dame and Louisville — don’t have a vote and Temple, which became a full member on July 1, cannot stop the dissolution of the league.
The Journal reported that the new league would target Xavier, Dayton and Butler to join their new enterprise, although it’s unclear what that will be called or whether it could keep its postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden, where it has been held since 1981.
A second Big East source told SNY.tv that those three schools plus VCU, St. Louis, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s were all in the mix to join the basketball-only conference.
The new league would retain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament because any league with seven or more schools that has been together for five or more years gets one, the Journal reported.
It’s unclear how the break-off will affect the Big East’s media negotiations. CBSSports.com projected last week the value of the Big East’s media rights revenue between $60 million and $80 million.
The loss of traditional powers like Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and St. John’s would surely be a devastating blow on that front.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told ESPN.com that the breakup of the Big East could allow Notre Dame and Louisville to join Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the ACC next year instead of having to wait the 27-month exit period.
“When I look at what’s going on, I’m really thankful we landed in the ACC when we did,” Brey said, according to Brian Hamilton.
Of the situation in the Big East now, he added: “It’s yet another blow that we all felt was coming.”
The Presidents and ADs of the seven schools met Sunday with Aresco in New York and were reportedly not thrilled with the addition of Tulane on the basketball side.
“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,” Marquette AD Larry 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.”
He said his colleagues 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.”
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said his school would move forward with or without the Big East.
“[Women’s coach] Joe Tartamella and myself have had productive discussions with Father Harrington and Chris Monasch concerning the latest developments that have come to light with the BIG EAST Conference,” Lavin said in a statement. “We have shared our perspective with Fr. Harrington and Chris as St. John’s shapes its future basketball aspirations.
“St. John’s is uniquely positioned to be successful regardless of the conference realignment outcome. It is our belief that we have all the key ingredients to move forward as a basketball program.”
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.