The Big East always has been skilled at fastbreak basketball. Now it seems inevitable it will display some breakaway basketball.
The seven member schools who don't play Division I-A football appear poised to exit.
They held a conference call with commissioner Mike Aresco on Thursday morning, and espn.com, si.com and others reported they are united in their plans. Aresco told the athletic directors of the remaining and incoming schools on Thursday night that he expects the seven will leave but had not officially heard from them, espn.com reported.
An announcement is likely within a few days. That will prompt a legal battle that will include who has the right to the Big East name, who plays its basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden, distribution of exit fees and the possible early departures of Louisville and Notre Dame to the ACC.
The schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova — have been unhappy with the direction of conference realignment, which has weakened the Big East.
The league formed in 1979 with a focus on basketball. It started sponsoring football in 1991 with Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. BC, Miami and Virginia Tech now are in the ACC, and Pitt and Syracuse join it in July. West Virginia now is in the Big 12. Temple was kicked out in 2004 and readmitted in July, and Rutgers is going to the Big Ten in 2014.
Connecticut (which joined in 2004) and Cincinnati (2005) sought the spot in the ACC that Louisville received last month.
"There was something really cool about the Big East. You could rely on it to get six or eight or nine (NCAA) bids in a year," Marquette athletic director Larry Williams told 540 ESPN Milwaukee on Tuesday. "It was home. Now that home has been sort of changed, and somebody came and put new furniture in. And boy do we still fit here is what everyone is sort of thinking about."
The conference increasingly has become influenced by football. And football has increasingly become influenced by TV.
Each of the five leagues that has an automatic berth in the football playoff that begins in 2014 — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 — has a deal worth at least $2.5 billion.
In 2011, the Big East rejected a nine-year, $1.17 billion offer, or $130 million per year, from ESPN. At that time, it still had marquee basketball programs in Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville. The conference is still seeking a deal. Before the departure of the seven basketball schools, the deal could be worth as low as $60 million per year, cbssports.com reported.
USF officials declined to comment Thursday. School president Judy Genshaft spoke optimistically about the league on Saturday.
"It's been very difficult to answer what's going to be in the future because it's dominos," she said. "One league takes another, and it goes back and forth.
"As of now, we're really happy with the Big East. We've got one of the best basketball programs ever. We've got Madison Square Garden for the next 8 to 10 years. It's pretty exciting. We're bringing in some good teams. Boise and Navy will be coming in."
If the basketball schools break away, USF could be in a vulnerable position. Several media reports said Boise State and San Diego State already were considering returning to the Mountain West because the Big East won't have a berth in the football playoff. And a diminished TV deal could cause other incoming schools to reconsider.
Meanwhile, the nearby ACC and SEC already have Florida presences, and the Big 12 recently said it's content to stay at 10 schools.
A breaking point for the Catholic schools appears to be last month's addition of Tulane.
"I was not pleased that we issued an invitation to Tulane without any diligence to what effect that would have on our basketball product, the draw on our RPI and other such things," Williams told the Milwaukee radio station. "I was disappointed that I wasn't able to participate … in the deliberations."
The Catholic schools believe they can make more money in a basketball-oriented league — perhaps joining with schools such as Butler, Creighton, St. Louis and Xavier — than one dominated by a diminished football product in which the football schools get a larger share of the revenue.
NCAA rules allow a group of seven schools that have been in the same league for five or more years to move to a new league and maintain their automatic qualifier status for the NCAA Tournament.
It's unclear if the schools would form a new conference or join one. Dissolution of the league is unlikely. Big East bylaws allow it via a two-thirds vote, but two votes must come from schools that play football.
Asked Saturday about how moves continue to shake up the league, Genshaft said it was hard to predict where things will end with the Big East.
"I thought it was going to be (stable)," she said. "My crystal ball isn't that clear."
Times staff writers Greg Auman and Joe Smith contributed to this report.
In and out … and in and out … and …
The Big East's current lineup and likely lineup if the seven basketball-centric Catholic schools leave after this season:
|Cincinnati||Boise State **||Boise State **||Boise State **|
|Georgetown *||Houston||East Carolina **||East Carolina **|
|Notre Dame||Notre Dame *||Temple||Navy **|
|Pittsburgh||Rutgers||San Diego State **||San Diego State **|
|Rutgers||San Diego State **||Tulane||Temple|
|Seton Hall *||SMU||UCF||Tulane|
|St. John's *||UCF||UCF|
* All but football ** Football only Bold: Addition to the league Italics: Final season in the league