Report: Seven Catholic Schools to Leave Big East (UPDATED)

The seven Catholic schools have decided to leave the Big East Conference and strike out on their own, according to a report from Mark Blaudschun of USA Today.

ESPN’s Andy Katz also cites a source saying the “decision is made,” according to his colleague, Brett McMurphy.

“I don’t think it’s a done deal but it’s as close as it’s ever been,” one Big East source told SNY.tv. “If it was ever going to happen, this is as close as it’s ever going to be.”

Added a second Big East source: “It definitely appears to be moving in that direction.”

It remains unclear when the seven schools — Providence, DePaul, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova — will make an announcement on the decision.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be the next day or the next six months,” the first source said.

As for plans to target A-10 schools like Xavier, Butler and Dayton for an expanded basketball-only conference, the first source said, “That would be the natural course of action.”

Another Big East source told SNY.tv that those three schools plus VCU, St. Louis, Gonzaga and St. Mary’s were all in the mix to join the basketball-only conference.

“I think anything’s possible,” the first source said.

We initially reported that the seven schools have a window between now and next summer to dissolve the league which began in 1979 by out-voting remaining all-sports members UConn, Cincinnati and South Florida.

But a Big East source told SNY.tv Thursday that the Catholics can’t dissolve the league with a two-thirds vote because at least two football and two basketball members must vote to dissolve.

The Catholics would not have to pay the $5 million exit fee for non-football members, but would have to wait the required 27 months, the source said.

“If they all leave as a group, they don’t have to pay it,” the source said.

The five schools leaving the league — Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Notre Dame and Louisville — don’t have a vote and Temple, which became a full member on July 1, cannot stop the dissolution of the league.

It’s unclear what the new league will be called or whether it could keep its postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden, where it has been held since 1981.

St. John’s coach Steve Lavin believes the new league will come away with the Big East name.

“When you look at the various outcomes, there is still going to be the Big East and the remaining schools are going to shape the best possible future for us,” Lavin said Thursday.

“I’m looking forward to knowing what that is and what direction we are going to take, but as I’ve said before St. John’s is positioned in a way that, regardless of realignment outcome, we have strong prospects.  Our heritage, traditions, Madison Square Garden, our recruiting base, our style of play, our staff and a number of reasons why St. John’s along with other schools are positioned to have success regardless of this particular chapter in conference realignment. That’s what it is, it’s another chapter of many from the past couple years, so we are just looking forward to finding out what that is just like anyone else would be.”

The new league would retain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament because any league with seven or more schools that has been together for five or more years gets one, the Providence Journal reported.

It’s unclear how the break-off will affect the Big East’s media negotiations. CBSSports.com projected last week the value of the Big East’s media rights revenue between $60 million and $80 million.

The loss of traditional powers like Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and St. John’s would surely be a devastating blow on that front.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told ESPN.com that the breakup of the Big East could allow Notre Dame and Louisville to join Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the ACC next year instead of having to wait the 27-month exit period.

“When I look at what’s going on, I’m really thankful we landed in the ACC when we did,” Brey said, according to Brian Hamilton.

Of the situation in the Big East now, he added: “It’s yet another blow that we all felt was coming.”

Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter

And like ZAGS on Facebook