Big East Conference breakup: How it happened and what it means for New York hoops

Jim McIsaac

The Big East Conference will soon be no more. SB Nation New York's Jared Smith examines how and why it all happened, and what is possibly the next steps.

The decision has been made. The Big East Conference's basketball-only schools - St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, Georgetown, Providence, DePaul and Villanova - have decided to leave the league, according to multiple reports.

The biggest question now is when and how it will all go down. It seems the schools are going to work through all options before making an official announcement.

With this all unofficially over, long-time Big East basketball fans are probably asking a lot of questions, and with so many different conflicting information out there, I decided to piece it all together in one long-winded piece.

I hope you brought a notepad.

Why is this happening?

Because of how the league splits television revenue tensions between the Big East's basketball-only schools and full-membership schools have been growing for years.

However, tensions reached a peak when in the last 17 months the West Virginia Mountaineers, Syracuse Orange, Louisville Cardinals, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Rutgers Scarlet Knights decided to leave the Big East and realign themselves with other conferences; and then UConn and South Florida strongly campaigned to be the newest member of the Atlantic Coast Conference when Maryland left to join the Big Ten Conference almost a month ago.

According to multiple reports, the straw that broke the Catholic schools' back was the addition of Tulane University more than two weeks ago.

The decision to add Tulane not only was seen as a bad decision because its basketball and football programs are weak, but also, according to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, commissioner Mike Aresco had very little dialogue with the league's basketball-only schools about the addition, which hurts the league's RPI - a rating that's critical to NCAA Tournament bids.

Finally forced to do something - though it can be argued something could have been done long before this - the Big East's seven basketball-only schools decided to take action while they could.

According to the Big East bylaws (Article XII), the teams can leave or dissolve the league with a two-thirds vote of all members. Currently, 10 schools have voting rights and seven of those schools want to leave. (Simple math.)

Of course, the conference's voting power shifts when four new teams - Central Florida, SMU, Houston and Memphis -- join in July. So, if the seven Catholic schools wanted to take action they need to do so before then.

Unless a miracle occurs, and it is the season of miracles, here's what will happen if the league splits.

(Reports are indicating that because of many issues it is likely the Catholic schools will decide not to dissolve, which would involve the seven departing schools keeping the conference's brand name and right to Madison Square Garden.)

-- The Big East will be left with nine teams: Connecticut Huskies, Cincinnati Bearcats, South Florida Bulls, Temple Owls, Houston Cougars, SMU Mustangs, Tulane Green Wave, Central Florida Knights and Memphis Tigers.

-- The new league will have seven teams: St. John's Red Storm, Seton Hall Pirates, Providence Friars, Marquette Golden Eagles, Georgetown Hoyas, Villanova Wildcats and DePaul Blue Demons.

-- The new league should maintain its automatic NCAA Tournament berth due to NCAA criteria, says Thamel.

"NCAA rules state that a baseline for an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament is a collection of seven schools that have been playing together for five or more years."

However, USA Today's Mark Blaudschun, who's the creator of AJerseyGuy.com (the site that broke this original story) says the Catholic schools would forfeit NCAA Tournament rights no matter how they decided to leave.

-- The departing schools, according to Thamel, will not join the Atlantic 10.

Though, ESPN's Andy Katz believes Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova and St. John's "will do everything in their power to remain in what they perceive is an elite conference." (Whatever that means.)

-- If the new league does as Thamel says, it will more than likely target three to five schools to join.

-- According to multiple reports, the main targets schools will be: the Dayton Flyers, Xavier Musketeers, Butler Bulldogs; and possibly the Saint Louis Billikens, Va. Commonwealth Rams and Gonzaga Bulldogs.

[If you're interested, here's a link to a breakdown of the new league by SB Nation's Rumble In The Garden]

Now, thanks to multiple articles and breakdowns by various college hoops writers here's what we learned about the money situation.

-- Big East basketball schools currently make $1.6 million a year.

-- Big East basketball schools currently make more money from NCAA Tournament participation than TV revenue, a Big East athletic director admitted to Thamel.

"The interesting point is that people focus on the TV dollars," said a Big East official. "Currently our unit dollars as a revenue stream exceed our TV revenue for basketball schools. We generate more dollars from NCAA participation."

-- The Big East could currently negotiate a TV contract worth between $60-80 million (CBSSports.com); or just over $100 million (Thamel); or as low as $50 million (ESPN).

-- Atlantic 10 basketball schools, which do not draw value from football schools, make less than $400,000 annually in television revenue.

-- It is too early to estimate how much TV money the seven Catholic schools could garner, but the A10 money gives you an idea.

-- The seven Catholic schools will not be forced to pay an exit fee.

However, by choosing to leave the schools, "would forfeit receiving their part of the growing total of exit fees that have been paid or will be paid," by the departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville, reports USA Today's Mark Blaudschun.

Where does that leave us now?

Again, unless a holiday miracle happens it seems the end of the Big East is right around the corner.

In 1979, the Big East was formed as a seven-team basketball league by former commissioner Dave Gavitt.

As Blaudschun explains, under Gavitt's leadership the league flourished and its quality got better when new commissioner Mike Tranghese in '91 added football and a few quality schools in the process.

While football flourished for a while, and the money flow was steady, it started to decline a decade ago when the Atlantic Coast Conference made the first major conference reconfiguration move by taking Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College from the Big East.

Since that time, the Big East has been the target of conference poaching

Who's to blame? A lot of people are. But this all stems from weak leadership that was taken advantage of by television, its money and the greed it creates.

(Sadly, loyalty is no longer valued in college sports - presumably the most pure of all athletics. Conference realignment is an example of this; so is every head coach that bolts for a better paying job and leaves players - who were willing to sign over the next four years of their lives - blindsided and stuck at a school without a chance to transfer.)

Now, a loyal program like UConn, which helped grow the league when it decided to invest in its football program and make them a FBS member in 2004, will be left to fend for itself.

Things will get extremely difficult for UConn and the remaining Big East schools when Boise St. and San Diego St. decide to pull a TCU and renege on its promise to join the league as a football member. (There are no reports this will happen, but I am confident it will.)

It's possible Temple and UConn could broker a deal with the new basketball league, but it would be difficult considering they will need to find a new conference in football.

For South Florida, Cincinnati and the rest of the incoming schools it looks like the MAC, Conference USA or returning to their old conferences will be the next option. But all of that still needs to work itself out.

For the local programs, St. John's and Seton Hall, things may not be as good as before but the move to leave is the best option and should pay dividends later.

According to the New York Post's Lenn Robbins, who reported Thursday the seven departing schools would be making their decision later in the day (he was right), the future looks better for St. John's than Seton Hall.

St. John’s has a much stronger brand name and it is one of just six schools to have developed its own HDTV network than can broadcast games on television, computer and hand held devices.

The Seton Hall blog South Orange Juice is hoping for a Big East/A10 merge.

The Atlantic-10 has slyly become big winners out of this whole conference realignment mess, adding Virginia Commonwealth and Butler, two of the hottest mid-majors, in the process. With twelve of their current sixteen schools sitting comfortably in the Top-105 of the KenPom ratings, it's clear that the Atlantic-10 is no longer the little brother of the Big East.

If you're wondering about conference tournaments at Madison Square Garden or in the New York area, well, it's still too early to figure out where this will all go.

Yet, a few tidbits have emerged. The most interesting being the "World's Most Famous Arena," which agreed in mid-October to a 10-year extension with the Big East that will run thru 2026, may not be stuck with or without a crummy conference tournament, a source told ESPN on Monday

MSG is "covered" and can get out of the contract if the league continues to change its membership.

And of course, the newly formed league could always turn to Brooklyn's Barclays Center, which inked a five-year agreement with the A10 in mid-October.

All-in-all, it looks like New York college hoops will survive, and given time, could be stronger than it could have been if the Catholic schools decided to stay in the Big East.

It's a sad day for all college basketball fans, but in the end, this mess maybe well worth it.


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