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Thursday, December 13, 2012
Sources: 7 schools agree to leave

By Brett McMurphy, Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil

The seven non-Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the Big East have agreed to leave the conference and are debating the process of departing it, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Details are still to be determined for how the seven Catholic schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova -- will leave the conference.

Big East commissioner Mike Aresco told the athletic directors of the remaining and incoming schools on Thursday evening that he expects the seven schools will leave the Big East, a source told ESPN. On the call, Aresco told the ADs that he had not officially heard from the seven schools that they were leaving.

According to the source, there is a lot of interpretation regarding exit fees, the waiting period, and on who gets the Big East name and Madison Square Garden for a conference basketball tournament.

The departing schools conducted a teleconference with Aresco on Thursday morning. They have scheduled a second conference call for Saturday, when they are expected to address these issues and possibly make an official declaration.

Because the seven schools are leaving as a group, they can use a league clause that eliminates the exit fee for a collective departure, a source told ESPN. However, the schools would have to honor the league's requirement to provide 27 months' notice.

The seven schools could negotiate an earlier exit, but the Big East would undoubtedly require some sort of financial compensation.

It's unknown who would keep the Big East name. The conference name typically stays with the members that remain in a league. However, the seven schools could argue the name should go with them because four of the seven Catholic schools (Georgetown, Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall) were founding members in 1979. UConn is the only Big East FBS member that was a founding member. Among the other founders, Boston College has left for the ACC, and Syracuse will join the Eagles after this season.

Initially, both the FBS and non-FBS schools believed, sources said, that the seven Catholic schools could dissolve the league by a two-thirds majority vote, which they have. However, a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN on Thursday that the league may not be dissolved without at least two FBS and two non-FBS members each voting to do so.

That won't happen as only 10 full members -- the seven departing, non-FBS schools plus UConn, Cincinnati and South Florida -- remain in the conference and the FBS schools don't want the league to dissolve. Temple is a football-only member. The Owls will be full members next year but would not get a vote on dissolution this year.

Without voting to dissolve, the seven schools are expected to move together to form a new league. They would keep their automatic berth in the NCAA basketball tournament because NCAA rules state that as long as a group of seven universities has been in the same league for five years, it keeps its bid after a move together to a new conference.

The remaining Big East schools would probably retain their automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after going through an NCAA process, according to NCAA vice president and former Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt. That would mean there would be 32 automatic bids to the field of 68, up from 31.

The departure of the non-FBS schools likely will not accelerate the scheduled departures of Rutgers to the Big Ten or Louisville to the ACC, sources said. Both are expected to remain in the Big East in 2013, with each expected to negotiate to leave on July 1, 2014.

Notre Dame is supposed to honor the league's 27-month exit agreement, but men's basketball coach Mike Brey said Thursday he believes the Irish could join the ACC for all sports except football next season.

Notre Dame was supposed to stay in the Big East for a 27-month period, which could mean as long as the 2015 season. But the Irish have been negotiating an early exit. Notre Dame is not required to pay an exit fee if it honors the 27-month agreement, based on the Irish's contract with the Big East.

Brey also said some of the nation's Catholic schools are discussing joining the seven outgoing Big East Catholic schools and making a national Catholic conference with Xavier, Saint Louis, Dayton, Creighton, Gonzaga and possibly Saint Mary's, as well.

Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski told ESPN.com that he's not sure how this will all play out but "we're supportive of efforts to strengthen the (Atlantic 10) membership," when asked what the Musketeers would do if the seven departing Catholic schools sought Xavier's membership.

The departure of the seven Catholic schools from the Big East is a crippling blow to the league's media-rights negotiations. Last week, CBSSports.com projected the value of the league's media-rights revenue between $60 million and $80 million. An industry source told ESPN on Tuesday that he thought the figure would be closer to $50 million. The estimates reported by CBSSports.com and ESPN both included the Catholic schools as part of the package.

Once the Big East loses the seven Catholic schools, it will decrease the value of the league's media rights by "15 to 20 percent," an industry source said.

Another challenge for the Big East is the league's basketball media-rights deal expires after the 2012-13 season, and the league's football contract expires after the 2013-14 season. It's unknown how the Big East could negotiate a new basketball deal, beginning next season when seven members would be leaving by 2015.

A smaller-than-projected media-rights deal might also affect decisions by Boise State and San Diego State to join the league in 2013 as football-only members and have them possibly decide to remain as full members of the Mountain West.

In past months, both schools have reiterated they are committed to the Big East, and a source said Thursday that San Diego State still plans to remain in the Big East in football in 2013 and in the Big West in all other sports.

The source said the Aztecs' approach is the exodus of the seven "does not change much for the football schools.''

St. John's men's basketball coach Steve Lavin said he and women's coach Joe Tartamella gave feedback on the school's decision.

"I've had discussions with (school president) Father (Donald) Harrington, with my athletic director, and with the team of people at St. John's," Lavin said. "When conference realignment started to take place there was a good conversation with the administration at St. John's. This is the latest update on conference realignment, but there hasn't been anything that has caught us off guard. It's one of the realities of big-time college athletics, so it's not as though when you wake up you're not any more surprised than you were three, six or eight months ago. It's part of the culture now. What we have to do is continue to get feedback and give our input, but the presidents are the ones who are going to determine the future for St. John's aspirations in basketball."

There still have been numerous changes in the Big East with seven Big East schools announcing they were leaving in the past two years: West Virginia, Pittsburgh, TCU, Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Rutgers.

In their place, the Big East added Temple and will add Houston, SMU, Memphis, UCF, Boise State and San Diego State in 2013, Tulane and East Carolina in 2014, and Navy in 2015.

Houston, SMU, Memphis, UCF and Tulane will be full Big East members; Boise State, San Diego State, East Carolina and Navy will be football-only members.

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said Thursday the Midshipmen are continuously "reviewing all the moving parts" concerning the Big East.

"We have the latitude to evaluate the bigger picture for the next couple of years," Gladchuk told the Baltimore Sun. "This is a obviously a new development. We're not in a position where we're panicking. Eventually, the dust will settle. What that means I don't know. When it does, Navy will take a real hard look at what's left standing."

Brett McMurphy is a college football reporter for ESPN. Andy Katz is a senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com. Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com.