Big East fate vexes Catholic schools

Updated: December 11, 2012, 12:29 PM ET
By Andy Katz and Brett McMurphy | ESPN.com

The seven Big East Catholic, non-FBS schools met with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco on Sunday to express their concerns for the direction of the conference, multiple Big East sources confirmed to ESPN.com on Monday.

Sources said the New York meeting was the first among the seven schools (Marquette, DePaul, St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova) and ultimately could lead to them splitting from the Big East's football members.

Sources said the seven schools discussed a number of options but most importantly wanted to have "lots of dialogue to better understand the best course of action for the future." Another source said no decision was made on what future action to take.

"It's too early to say on that," said a source.

At issue is whether the Big East basketball-only schools have the power to dissolve the league, and retain all the assets and brand name. A source with knowledge of the situation said that until July 1, the seven have the majority votes and the necessary three-fourths to have controlling power. There are only three remaining football members -- Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida.

But a number of sources couldn't confirm whether Temple, which is a football-only member this season, has a controlling vote. One Big East source said Temple has a vote on football issues but wasn't sure whether the Owls could use that vote for membership. If the Owls could, Temple likely would be the fourth vote preventing any dissolving of the league.

The seven schools are concerned about the additions of full members Memphis, Temple, Tulane, Central Florida, SMU and Houston, and football-only member East Carolina over the next two years to replace departing Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, Rutgers and Notre Dame.

"The basketball schools are not thrilled with Tulane and what they will do to the league's RPI," said a league source from a football-playing member. "They were not all that excited with that addition."

The source added that "the basketball schools would have fallen off the ledge if we would have added East Carolina as a full member and what that would have done to the basketball league."

At Sunday's meeting, which was earlier reported by Ajerseyguy.com, the seven basketball-only schools wanted to secure the best possible television deal. Aresco was there to soothe any concerns about the prospects of a new deal.

Last week, CBSSports.com reported the Big East's media rights deal is expected to bring between $60 million and $80 million, which would actually provide the basketball schools less revenue than the current deal. Based on those figures, the basketball schools would earn only $1.06 million (based on the $60 million estimate) or $1.41 million (based on the $80 million estimate). They currently annually receive $1.5 million from the league's media rights deal.

The problem for the Catholic seven would be that if they were to venture off without taking the assets and brand name, they would forfeit all the NCAA tournament revenue from the conference and would be left without any start-up to form a new conference. Then, of course, the seven schools would have to attempt to lure Atlantic-10 members Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis, Butler and possibly Creighton, the latter out of the Missouri Valley, to form a city league that would stretch from St. Louis to Chicago to Milwaukee to Indianapolis to Cincinnati to Dayton to Providence to New York-New Jersey to Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.

Of course, the A-10 could try to poach the departing schools before it would suffer a grab by this possible new conglomerate.

Sources said the schools are banking on luring more lucrative television dollars with these media markets rather than continuing to see the league watered down.

A basketball split, which has been rumored for years, would send shockwaves throughout the rest of the potential Big East members, especially football-only members such as Boise State and San Diego State, which are scheduled to leave the Mountain West for an expected, but now uncertain, bigger media rights payday in the Big East. Boise State and San Diego State will have to put their non-football sports in the Big West.

Syracuse and Pitt are leaving the Big East for the ACC in 2013. Notre Dame is attempting to get out of the conference early as well but might have to wait until 2014. Louisville is expected to join the ACC in 2014 and Rutgers to join the Big Ten in 2014.

Cincinnati and Connecticut publicly attempted to get into the ACC but Louisville was chosen over those two schools last month.

"The league was not happy the way Cincinnati and UConn reacted to the news they were not selected by the ACC," a Big East source said.

The seven Catholic schools have sat idle the past year, assuming the defections wouldn't crush the league, but that was before the most recent departures of Louisville and Rutgers.

"I still think it will take a lot for them to split away," a league source said.

Meanwhile, a source with knowledge of the Big East's deal with Madison Square Garden told ESPN.com that MSG is "covered" and can get out of the contract if the league continues to change its membership.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

Brett McMurphy | email

College football reporter

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