By Dan Gelston
The Associated Press
VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova’s Big East banner that hangs in the rafters already has a white patch stitched over West Virginia.
The Wildcats can now start putting Xs over most of the rest of the conference schools, as well.
The Big East — a proud league built on basketball moments like the 1985 Wildcats stunning conference rival Georgetown in the national championship game — will soon become extinct, even if the name lives on in some unrecognizable form.
On Saturday, Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence all decided to officially separate from the conference many of them helped to build, so they can construct a league focused on basketball in this ever-changing landscape of college athletics.
The breakaway from the Big East was only the first step. It will be weeks and months of uncertainty, and possibly lawsuits, before the final structure over this transition period falls into place.
The seven schools must decide who will join them in the new hoops-heavy conference, when they want to depart, where they’ll play a conference tournament, and whether they will attempt to keep the Big East name. Plus, the league will need a commissioner.
There is no true timetable for any of those decisions. Like so many of these reshaped conferences that stretch from coast to coast, this new league won’t be confined to eastern teams. Xavier, Butler, Dayton, Creighton, and Gonzaga, way out in Spokane, Wash., also don’t play major college football and would be natural fits to align with these Catholic schools. The league also will consider non-denominational schools, as well.
“They don’t necessarily have to be Catholic, but it could happen,” Patrick Lyons, Seton Hall’s athletic director, said. “We’re not restricting it. We also have to consider our football-playing Big East partners and what they plan to do. But we’re extremely excited about being able to shape our future.”
The seven departing schools have won three men’s basketball national championships with 18 Final Four appearances. Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence helped form the Big East, which started playing basketball in 1979. Villanova joined in 1980, and Marquette and DePaul in 2005. The Big East began playing football in 1991.
“I just like the fact that our schools are being proactive and moving in a direction that I think will be just great,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “I’ve always said DePaul will be fine because we’ll be in a terrific basketball league and nothing’s transpired in the last week or so that’s changed my mind.”
For most of the schools, leaving is bittersweet, but it is a move necessitated by earlier defections like Syracuse (ACC), Pittsburgh (ACC) and West Virginia (Big 12), and the heavy emphasis on the cash-cow football programs.
“I think the tipping point in the mind of all seven of us was the most recent departure of Louisville and Rutgers,” said Villanova’s president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue. “There was a concern on all of our parts about where the conference was heading and where basketball was playing a part in the conference.”
The breakup, however, is almost guaranteed to get messy. The Big East name, after all, will be up for grabs in negotiations.
“The association has served us well, for sure,” Villanova Athletic Director Vince Nicastro said. “It’s been part of the fabric of our programs. But we’re looking forward.”
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