Big East completes its football-basketball breakup
AP College Football Writer
NEW YORK – The Big East is going back to its roots – and punting football.
The football and basketball schools in the ever-changing conference announced Friday that they have agreed to a settlement that will allow the two sides to go their own ways on July 1.
Commissioner Mike Aresco told The Associated Press the seven Catholic schools that are leaving to form a basketball-centric conference will get the Big East name, along with the opportunity to play their league tournament in Madison Square Garden.
The football members, most of which are newcomers to a conference that has been ravaged by realignment, get a huge cash haul but will have to find a new name for their league.
“It’s been an arduous four months but we got to the right place,” Aresco said in a phone interview. “I think both conferences have good futures.”
Aresco, who will remain commissioner of the football league, would not disclose the financial part of the settlement.
A person familiar with the negotiations told the AP earlier this week that the football schools will receive about $100 million from a $110 million stash the conference had built up over the last two and a half years through exit and entry fees as well as NCAA men’s basketball tournament funds.
Aresco said the football schools have not chosen a conference name and there are no favorites yet. He also said they have not determined how the money from the separation agreement will be split among the members.
The person familiar with the negotiations said the bulk of the money will go to holdover members Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida.
The divorce agreement with the basketball members, and the football schools’ new TV deal with ESPN, still must be ratified by the school presidents. Aresco said that should come soon and without glitches. Next up on the agenda for the football schools, Aresco said, is to find a 12th member and venues for future basketball tournaments.
The settlement will bring the Big East back to its origins. When it was formed in 1979, it banded together a group of mostly small, private schools located in and around big Northeast cities.
The seven schools breaking away from the football schools include some of the Big East’s founding members and most recognizable teams: Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul. They are expected to sign a television rights deal with Fox, add at least two more schools and have the new league up-and-running by July.
“We are grateful to Commissioner Mike Aresco for spearheading an agreement that truly represents the best path forward for each of our great institutions and the thousands of student-athletes who compete for our schools annually,” the presidents of the seven basketball schools said in a joint statement.
The football conference now known as the Big East will consist next season of Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati, Temple, Rutgers and Louisville, along with incoming members Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston.
Rutgers and Louisville will likely be playing their last seasons in the conference before switching leagues, to the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.
Tulane and East Carolina are scheduled to join the football league in 2014, and Navy comes aboard in 2015. Tulsa is being targeted as the next addition to the conference.
The Big East started playing football in 1991, when it added Miami, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Temple, to go along with Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College. The relationship between the football and basketball wings was always difficult to navigate, but Big East football was good enough to be a given a reserved spot in the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 and that gave the basketball schools access to millions of dollars in revenue they otherwise would not have had.
In 2004, Miami and Virginia Tech were lured from the Big East to the ACC and Boston College (a founding member), followed the next year.
Those defections looked as if they could kill Big East football, but the conference recovered by adding Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida to rebuild football and DePaul and Marquette to bolster basketball.
That worked for a while. Big East football more than held its own and Big East basketball, both men’s and women’s, thrived.
But the conference fell apart over the last two seasons. Starting with Syracuse and Pittsburgh announcing in 2011 that they would join the ACC, 16 schools, including Notre Dame, have bailed on the Big East.
Notre Dame plans to join the ACC, but was expected to spend one more season in the Big East. The breakup could lead the Irish to expedite their move.
The Big East seemed to be on its way toward stabilizing last fall. It hired Aresco, the former CBS executive, and had a plan to build a coast-to-coast football conference with Boise State anchoring a western division.
Then the Big Ten wooed Rutgers away and the ACC came for Louisville and the plan fell apart.
The basketball schools decided to take control of their future, with help from Fox, which will provide them a lucrative TV deal to help fill the network’s new all-sports cable channels.
The football schools will still have a basketball league, with Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati as the headliners.
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