Big Priest Schools Cut Ties With Big East; Report Says Butler, Xavier Will Join New League (UPDATED)

It’s official.

The seven Big Priest schools have opted to cut ties with the Big East and strike out on their own, although Big East spokesman Chuck Sullivan told SNY.tv the “effective date” for the schools leaving is June 30, 2015.

It is possible the seven schools could leave before that date, just as Syracuse and Pittsburgh negotiated early exits from the Big East prior to the 27-month exit period.

“We would like to do it whenever is best for all concerned,” St. John’s President Father Donald J. Harrington said on a conference call. “We really want to be good colleagues as we leave. St. John’s, I’m speaking for now, but I’m sure the other presidents would feel similarly.

“And so if we as Presidents sit down with the football presidents and come to the conclusion that X date is the best time, that’s when we would want to do it.”

As for what the new league will be called, Father Harrington said, “St. John’s would love to keep the Big East name.

“I would want to hear from the football schools, how important that is to them. And then we’d come to some resolution. It would be difficult for us to lose that name, but at the same time that would not stop us in this process.”

Harrington said he expects the new league will have “10 or 12 teams” but doesn’t know which schools will join.

The Big Priest schools are expected to target several current A-10 schools to join them, possibly including Butler, Dayton, St. Joe’s, Xavier and VCU, as well as some combination of Creighton, Gonzaga, St. Louis and St. Mary’s.

A source close to the decision told CityOfBasketballLove.com on Saturday afternoon that Xavier and Butler will “definitely” be joining the Big Priest schools.

“It’s really premature to know at this time,” Father Harrington said.

Xavier coach Chris Mack told USA Today he would be interested in the new league.

“Selfishly, I think it’d be great for recruiting,” Mack told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. “It’d be great for our program. But at this point, it’s all speculation. We just keep our head down and worry about today’s practice.”

“The great thing about our program is that for 30 years or so, we’ve done an amazing job of putting ourselves in a great position to be a desired commodity.”

Xavier AD Mike Bobinski told USA Today “there hasn’t been any official contact of any sort,” but said there was “commonality” between Xavier and the other schools.

“From an institutional fit and like missions and like commitments in the sports that are important to us – basketball being the primary sport – there is a lot of commonality there,” Bobinski said. “You can’t argue that. You can’t deny that. Level of play and performance perspective, we match up extremely well with that group (of schools).

“Now we know why Xavier’s name gets mentioned. There’s a natural correlation there.”

In the meantime, the Big East has no TV deal for next year, and the new Catholic league does not have one either.

Father Harrington said the issue of the TV deal is something “we now have to address. It isn’t that they weren’t spoken of, but we’re far from resolution in these things because they’re just to complex at this point.”

As for who will be the point person on the formation of the new league and any TV deal, Father Harrington said that he envisioned the seven Presidents meeting much more often and the “board would make the decisions.”

He added that Georgetown President Dr. John J. DeGioia “is the co-chair of the Big East Conference.”

“Jack right now is our leader…and he will continue in that role I’m sure, but it will always be the seven of us deciding together,” Father Harrington added.

“The opportunity for Villanova to work with these six schools on a new basketball framework that builds on the great basketball tradition established by the Big East is exciting,” Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said in a statement released by the university. “There is obviously a lot of change taking place in college athletics right now, and we are looking forward to a great future with these partners.”

Earlier in the day, the Presidents of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova 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.

We look forward to building this new foundation with an emphasis on elite competition and a commitment to the development of our students engaged in intercollegiate athletics.  That is where we will now spend our energy as we move forward. 

The Big East issued its own statement in response.

“The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the BIG EAST Conference. 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.”

With the Catholic schools leaving, combined with the five schools headed out (Rutgers, Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame), the remaining basketball schools in the Big East would be Cincinnati, UConn, South Florida, Memphis, Temple, UCF, Houston, SMU and Tulane (2014).

However, at this point in time, the Big East is slated to have 18 basketball schools next year, including Louisville, Notre Dame and Rutgers.

On the football side, the Big East still expects to have a 12-team football league next year, including Boise State and San Diego State, plus Rutgers and Louisville, who are not slated to leave until 2014.

It remains unclear who Aresco and the Big East will now target going forward.

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