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Seven basketball-centric Catholic schools officially vote to leave Big East Conference

The seven Big East schools that don't play major college football are separating from the conference many of them founded so they can build a league focused on basketball.

Those schools' presidents made the announcement Saturday, two days after their intentions were first reported.

The seven schools are Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence. All are Catholic schools; only Georgetown and Villanova have football programs, both in Division I-AA.

"The planned withdrawal of the seven Catholic institutions from the Big East Conference was certainly not unexpected, and we wish them the best moving forward," USF athletic director Doug Woolard said in a statement. "The Big East has 13 strong members moving forward together. We will have an excellent league in football, basketball and all other sports, and our programs will compete at the very highest level of intercollegiate athletics."

USF has been in the same conference as DePaul and Marquette for all sports but football since 1995-96, when the Bulls joined Conference USA. All three joined the Big East for the 2005-06 school year along with football-playing schools Louisville (which will join the ACC in fall 2014) and Cincinnati.

Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence helped form the Big East, which started playing basketball in 1979. Villanova joined in 1980. The Big East began playing football in 1991.

The basketball schools gave no details about their plans, such as when they want to depart and whether they will try to keep the name Big East.

"St. John's would love to keep the Big East name," said the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, the president of St. John's, who emphasized he was speaking only for his school. "I would like to hear what the football schools think and then try to make a compromise."

Cincinnati basketball coach Mick Cronin said he didn't blame the basketball-centric schools for their decision.

"It's a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this," Cronin said Saturday. "The money that one sport is swinging around is swaying universities to make decisions. Don't tell me that people care about student-athletes. It's all ridiculous. … If it's all about money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid."

Big East bylaws require 27 months notice from departing members, but the league negotiated early departures with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia over the past year. Those schools paid exit fees. League rules let schools leave as a group without exit fees.

"Within the structure of the Big East Conference we have the opportunity as a group to exercise a right to, in an orderly fashion, separate from the conference," Georgetown athletic director Lee Reed said.

Connecticut, a founding member, USF, Cincinnati and Temple as the only current Big East schools scheduled to be there beyond the 2013-14 school year.

"The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East," Commissioner Mike Aresco said of the departing schools in a statement.

"This is a group of like-minded schools with excellent academics, great athletic histories and traditions, national caliber basketball programs, and passionate fan bases in major media markets," Villanova president Rev. Peter M. Donohue said in a statement. "This decision is about controlling our future."

There has been speculation that the "Catholic Seven" will try to align with other Catholic schools with strong basketball programs, such as Xavier, Dayton, Creighton or Gonzaga.

In and out … and in and out … and …

The Big East's current lineup, approximate school exit dates and projected lineups with seven basketball-centric Catholic schools leaving:

2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16
USF USF USF USF
Cincinnati Boise State ** Boise State ** Boise State **
Connecticut Cincinnati Cincinnati Cincinnati
DePaul * Connecticut Connecticut Connecticut
Georgetown * Houston East Carolina ** East Carolina **
Louisville Louisville Houston Houston
Marquette * Memphis Memphis Memphis
Notre Dame * Notre Dame * Notre Dame * Navy **
Pittsburgh Rutgers San Diego State ** San Diego State **
Providence * San Diego St. ** SMU SMU
Rutgers SMU Temple Temple
Seton Hall * Temple Tulane Tulane
St. John's * UCF UCF UCF
Syracuse
Temple **
Villanova *

* All but football ** Football only Bold: Addition to the league Italics: Projected final season in the league

Seven basketball-centric Catholic schools officially vote to leave Big East Conference 12/15/12 [Last modified: Sunday, December 16, 2012 12:00am]
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