Providence College Among 7 Schools Leaving Big East

By Matt Blanchette

mblanchette@abc6.com

The Associated Press

NEW YORK —

The seven Big East schools that don't play FBS football spoke
with the conference commissioner Thursday about possibly breaking from a
league that has been drastically reshaped. Such a breakup would be
complicated and could conceivably kill the Big East.

Commissioner
Mike Aresco conferred by phone with the leaders of those seven schools,
according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke on
condition of anonymity to The Associated press because of the
sensitivity of the discussions.

The current Big East football
membership includes only four schools – South Florida, Connecticut and
Cincinnati, 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 nonfootball schools in the Big East could try to vote to dissolve
the conference now. Or they could simply leave the league.

The
schools that do not 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 league and feel
as if they have little power to influence it.

If the schools
were to break off on their own, they could do so without financial
penalty. The Big East has provisions in its bylaws that allow of a group
of schools to leave without exit fees.

But what they would do
remains unclear, as are the legal ramifications of their actions. 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.

Who owns the rights to the name Big East could even be up in the air.

What
would happen to the current and future football members is also
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 the
instability has made it impossible to land a deal.

The Big East
has been hoping to sign a TV deal that could bring in as much as $100
million a year to its members, though some estimates have been a low as
$60 million. If the TV money isn't up to the Big East's projections, it
could cause some of the future members, especially Boise State and San
Diego State, to reconsider joining.

The Mountain West and
Conference USA have already lined up replacement members for the schools
that have pledged to go to the Big East. Boise State and San Diego
State would likely be able to slide right back into the Mountain West,
but the seven current C-USA schools would have a less clear future.

All
of those schools, even though they have not participated in the Big
East, could be on the hook for exit fees to the conference if they did
change plans.

The Big East's long-term plan is to form a 12- to
14-team football conference that spans coast to coast, starting next
year, while also having a large basketball league with many of its
traditional members.

But the most recent defections of
Louisville and Rutgers, along with the additions of Tulane for all
sports and East Carolina for football only in 2014, have left the
basketball schools wondering if it's worth sticking with the plan.

Conference
realignment has whittled away the Big East, costing it many of its
oldest and most prominent members in the last 16 months. Pittsburgh and
Syracuse are going to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year. West
Virginia has moved to the Big 12. Louisville is headed to the ACC and
Rutgers to the Big Ten, maybe as soon as 2014.

Money doesn't
seem to be driving the basketball schools away. The Big East nonfootball
members currently get about $1.6 million from the league's television
deals, and that share goes up to about $3.5 million when NCAA basketball
tournament money is included. The football members make about $6
million currently.

Even if the Big East doesn't reach its goals
with a new TV contract, the Big East basketball schools are not likely
to earn much more on their own. Though the difference between what they
get without the football schools and what they get with them might be
small enough to justify leaving them behind and taking control back of
their programs.

“What's football going to look like in 15
years?” Marquette athletic director Larry Williams told ESPN Radio 540
in Milwaukee this week. “They may not be in the power position they are
in today. How do we as an elite basketball program fit into the
landscape of this football dominated environment? I don't have a
complete answer for you, but that's the question.”