Wednesday's formal establishment of a new Big East Conference -- officially welcoming Butler, Creighton and Xavier to join the so-called Catholic 7, continuing to have Madison Square Garden host the tournament through 2026 and including a 12-year television-rights contract with the fledgling Fox Sports 1 network -- materialized over three short months.
But the possibility of reverting to the original Big East idea of basketball-centric, urban schools in major markets had been "anticipated," Georgetown University president John DeGioia said, a decade ago.
The diverging interest of "football schools" began to be apparent when Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami all left for the Atlantic Coast Conference and larger football riches between 2004 and 2005. That moved the Big East, in 2005, to include in its bylaws an agreement that either its football-priority members or basketball-first schools -- there were eight of each at the time -- had the option of leaving the league, as a group, without penalty. (That was separate from exit fees for schools leaving individually.)
"The logic that held us together for 34 years was that our basketball would be stronger with the football schools," DeGioia said, "though that didn't become explicit logic until 1993," when Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Temple brought significant football blood into the conference.
"We had football schools like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville, Notre Dame, West Virginia that are very strong basketball programs. But they needed to have a strong place for football, and we weren't certain this was going to work either for the football members or the basketball members."
Still, right through November, DeGioia said, the Big East continued seeking new members, until the accumulating losses of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pitt and Louisville to the ACC, and Rutgers to the Big Ten, shocked the basketball group into action.
"I think it was Father [Peter] Donohue of Villanova who said, 'We really should sit down together and talk,' " St. John's University president Rev. Donald Harrington said.
"As long as we thought it would work the way it was," Harrington said, "we would stay with that. In 2004-05, there was that question, and we said, 'OK, we're going to stay with this.' But, what happened was that we'd go to conference meetings and we recognized that we had less and less in common. Legitimately, the football schools would focus on football. I didn't have a great interest in football because I don't have a football team."
Furthermore, the hybrid, scattered Big East no longer could demand top dollar in media rights. So the Catholic 7 (old Big East members St. John's, Villanova, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall) opted to return to the initial conference model and found Fox (which wouldn't disclose financial specifics) eager to sign on.
Meanwhile, a search is on for a new Big East commissioner, former Big 12 chief Dan Beebe has been hired as a consultant, and several unnamed schools, according to DeGioia, have called to say, "We like what you're doing. We believe in the idea. We'd like to be a part of it."