Football expansion altered the Big East Conference beyond recognition, but the basketball schools that originally gave the league its identity when it was formed in 1979 are poised to put it out of its misery.
Presidents from the seven remaining Catholic universities, including St. John's and Seton Hall in the New York metro area, are in the process of formulating a joint statement regarding their plans to either dissolve the conference or withdraw from it, multiple sources confirmed to Newsday Thursday. The announcement could come as soon as Friday.
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A Big East spokesman confirmed that commissioner Mike Aresco spoke with the seven schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova -- in a conference call Thursday morning in an effort to convince them to stay.
"There was no resolution," the league spokesman said. "The ball is in their court. The next step is theirs."
Sources from all interests agreed the breakup is likely. All that remains is to determine the method of departure and then the legal wrangling over who retains the Big East brand name and what happens to the annual conference basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden. The seven schools are expected to form a basketball conference that would begin play as soon as the 2014-15 academic year, according to a source.
"The legalities will take quite some time," a source from one departing school said. "They will make their move first. I would be surprised if nothing happens Friday."
A source from a second departing school said reports of the planned breakup were "accurate" but said the presidents are in a "holding pattern" until they agree on a joint statement.
The move was precipitated by concern among the non-football schools with regard to the massive changes conference membership has undergone as a result of football realignment. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Notre Dame announced moves to the ACC; West Virginia and TCU, which never played a game in the Big East after joining, now are in the Big 12, and Rutgers is moving to the Big Ten.
At the moment, that leaves Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Temple as football schools, and Temple, which won't become a full member until July 1, 2013, can vote only on football-related matters. That means the seven basketball schools have the two-thirds majority needed to dissolve the conference.
A bylaw gives the basketball-only schools the right to leave without an exit fee if they leave as a group, and they retain the television money they earned. But the league still might enforce the 27-month waiting period to leave.
The departing schools have spoken with ESPN and other media outlets to determine their market value, according to a source. They need a minimum of eight schools for their conference model and are expected to invite other prime basketball schools to join them. The leading candidates include Catholic schools St. Louis, Xavier, Creighton and Dayton of the Atlantic 10, as well as Butler from the same league.
The new league is expected to accept non-Catholic schools as members. "They just have to be good fits ," one source said. "They're looking at all options for the most formidable league they can put together."