Catholic Schools Make It Official

Catholic Schools Make It Official

The seven Big East schools that do not play FBS football – commonly known now as the Catholic 7 – made it official Saturday that they plan to leave the conference and form a new basketball league.

The split from the Big East had been widely reported in the last week but the presidents of the schools announced Saturday that the move was approved by a unanimous vote. Under conference bylaws, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova will remain in the Big East until June 30, 2015. But during a series of realignment moves the past 15 months, several schools have been granted exemption from the conference's requirement of a 27-month notice, so that could change.

In addition, Big East schools can leave as a group without paying exit fees.

The decision creates anxiety and uncertainty for Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida, and Temple – the current members of the Big East with FBS programs. UConn stands as the lone founding member of the Big East from the 1979 formation of the conference.

The presidents of the seven schools leaving issued this statement:

"Earlier today we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established. Under the current context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward.

"We are grateful to our Commissioner, Michael Aresco, for his exceptional leadership of the Big East Conference. We have been honored to be associated with the outstanding group of institutions that have made up the Big East. While we pursue this opportunity for our institutions, we believe the efforts of the past two years have established the foundation for an enduring national football conference.

The decision of the Catholic 7 will likely spark numerous legal battles, including how to split millions of dollars of NCAA basketball tournament money, TV money and those exit fees. A battle over who retains the rights to the Big East name is also expected.

"The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the Big East Conference," Aresco said in a statement. "The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East. The 13 members of the conference are confident and united regarding our collective future. We have a strong conference with respected national universities, and are working together to forge the future. We have a variety of options, and are looking forward with great partnership, collegiality and optimism."

The Big East plans to realign and add Memphis, Houston, SMU, Central Florida, Tulane and East Carolina (football only). Boise State and San Diego State join as football-only members next year and Navy enters in 2015.

UConn's desire to leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference is well known but the Huskies were passed up last month when Louisville was selected over UConn and Cincinnati.

"The tragedy that took place in Newtown on Friday should be the focus of the thoughts of the people in Connecticut and all Husky fans this weekend," UConn president Susan Herbst said in a statement Saturday. "The University of Connecticut believes that the Big East Conference will continue to be a strong and exciting conference that is comprised of highly-regarded national universities.

"We ask our fans to steer all passion and concern to Newtown, and we will honor those lost when we gather together as a university community for events this upcoming week."

There have been published reports that UConn and Cincinnati would ban together in an attempt to create a new conference. Athletic director Warde Manuel told The Hartford Courant that the report was not accurate.

"Conference realignment is a story that is still being told," Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. "Like our fans, students, donors and alumni, I will be glad when all of this is over. I cannot tell you how, when or where it will end, but I can tell you that UC is positively committed to competing at the highest level. I do not know the time frame for the endgame of all of this. We will not have the answers overnight.

"But I do know this: now is not the time to stop moving forward or to simply give up. Last week we hired an outstanding football coach. Our men's basketball team is undefeated and highly ranked. We have had competitive success in a number of our other sports and the academic success of our University and our student-athletes has never been stronger."

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