Catholic 7 departing June 30
Three months after indicating they were leaving the Big East Conference to form their own league, the Catholic 7's departure date finally became official.
The Big East announced Friday it has agreed to allow the Catholic 7 schools -- a group of basketball-only institutions within the conference -- to depart on June 30.
"I am pleased that this agreement has been reached," Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said. "With the long-term well-being of our outstanding institutions and their student-athletes of paramount importance, each group worked through a number of complex issues in an orderly, comprehensive and amicable manner marked by mutual respect. We part ways as friends and colleagues and look forward to the success of both conferences."
Although not addressed in Aresco's statement, sources told ESPN's that the Catholic 7 will keep the Big East Conference name and have the right to play its league tournament in Madison Square Garden.
The Catholic 7 schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova -- will form a 10-team league by adding Butler, Xavier and likely Creighton, sources told ESPN.
The group also is expected to announce a multiyear media rights deal with Fox Sports, worth at least $3 million per school annually, sources told ESPN.
With the Catholic 7's departure date officially determined, the Big East now must turn its attention to negotiating with Notre Dame on its early exit.
Because the Catholic 7 weren't required to honor the league's 27-month exit agreement, Notre Dame also is seeking an earlier exit to join the ACC on July 1, sources said. The ACC will allow Notre Dame, which will be an ACC member in all sports but football, to join a year early this summer if it can negotiate an exit agreement with the Big East, sources said. Sources said Friday that the Big East will allow Notre Dame to bolt on July 1 for a $2.5 million exit fee.
Notre Dame, the Big East and the ACC had no official comment on the situation Friday.
Even though the Catholic 7, and likely Notre Dame, are able to exit this summer, Rutgers and Louisville must remain in the Big East another year before departing, respectively, to the Big Ten and ACC. The reason is Rutgers and Louisville would create unbalanced football divisions in their respective leagues. Notre Dame did not play football in the Big East.
Besides coming to an agreement so Notre Dame may leave this summer, the remaining Big East membership also must determine a new name for its conference. League sources told ESPN that the America 12 Conference is the favorite to become the league's new name, but no official decision has been made. On Tuesday, Covington & Burling, the conference's law firm, purchased and registered the domain name America12.org and several other variations of America 12, according to WhoIs domain-registration data.
"We have not chosen a new conference name at this time and there are no favorites," Aresco said in a statement. "We are going through a thoughtful evaluation of potential names for our conference and will select a name in a timely manner."
Besides a new name, the conference must also find a new home for its basketball tournament. Hartford, Conn., and Memphis are among the cities under consideration, sources said. The league offices, however, will remain for now in Providence, R.I.
The presidents of the Catholic 7 universities issued a statement that this decision "truly represents the best path forward for each of our great institutions and the thousands of student-athletes who compete for our schools annually.
"It is a great credit to Mike, our colleagues, and all involved that we were able to work through a host of highly complex and time-sensitive issues in such a short period of time," the statement read. "We are pleased that we reached this amicable and mutually beneficial separation by approaching each issue with a spirit of cooperation and shared respect."
The Catholic 7 group, besides the Big East name and the right to hold its tournament in Madison Square Garden, also will receive about $10 million of an estimated $110 million in exit fees collected by the Big East the past few years, sources said.
Of the remaining $100 million, $15 million will go to lawyers' fees and consultants, sources said. That leaves about $85 million to be distributed between the remaining members and incoming members. How that money will be divided is still being determined with holdovers Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida expected to receive the biggest percentage.
The Big East began as a non-football conference in 1979 before also becoming a football conference in 1991. Four of the Catholic 7 schools were charter members -- Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence -- and now they will transition to a different version of the Big East. In 2014-15, the new 10-team Big East is expected to add two teams, with Dayton and Saint Louis the leading candidates to get to 12 members, sources said.
Adding the new members -- Butler, Xavier and Creighton had not officially withdrawn from their current leagues as of early Friday -- is among the immediate challenges for the new league.
First it must finalize its media rights deal with Fox Sports Network, then add three more schools, hire a commissioner, draft league bylaws and complete fall championship planning, sources said.
The defection of the Catholic 7 from the Big East actually had been predicted for years. Two years ago former UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun, attending the Big East's spring meetings, said the league splitting apart was "inevitable" in "a couple of years."
In the past two years, 16 schools have left or announced they were leaving the Big East.
What remains for the Big East in 2013 is a 10-team conference: Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Rutgers, South Florida, SMU, Temple and UCF.
In 2014, the league will lose two more members when Louisville departs for the ACC and Rutgers moves to the Big Ten, but it will add East Carolina and Tulane. In 2015, Navy is scheduled to join the Big East as a football-only member. The 12th member is expected to be Tulsa, in either 2014 or '15, sources said.
At last week's league's meetings in Atlanta, sources told ESPN that Tulsa was the only school discussed as an expansion target.
Even though the league must change its name, its football champion will still receive an automatic berth to one of the BCS bowls this fall, the final year of the BCS system.