Catholic Schools Announce Big East Departure

The Big East’s seven Catholic schools have announced their decision to break away from the conference in a press release Saturday afternoon.

The seven schools involved are St. John’s, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova.

“Earlier today we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established,” the presidents said in the statement.  “Under the current context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward.”

According to St. John’s president Rev. Donald Harrington, the seven schools have yet to decide when they will depart from the conference.

“If we sit down with the football schools and we agree together its better to do it in 2014 or in 2016, [we’ll do] what’s better for all concerned,” Harrington said, while noting that 2016 wouldn’t be beneficial to either side. “We want to be good colleagues and want to leave that way.”

Harrington reiterated the sentiment of being “good colleagues” throughout his conference call. This included the issue of the Big East name and brand.

“St. John’s would love to keep the Big East name,” he said. “I would want to hear from the football schools as to how important it is for them.”

Going forward, Harrington said that the seven schools would meet more often to discuss the future of their new conference.

“It’s really premature to say who would join what we’re calling the core group of schools,” he said.

Harrington said they would aim for 10 to 12 members in total and noted that it would warrant “great attention in the months ahead.”

There are a few possibilities for schools that would be willing to join a new conference. Many of the candidates are currently members of the Atlantic 10 conference.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, citing multiple sources, reported on Thursday that Xavier and Butler, both members of the A-10, have been tapped to join. In addition, the New York Post, citing sources, reported that Dayton, St. Louis and Xavier have “one foot out of the door” for joining the Catholic schools and that Creighton had been contact by representatives of the schools.

The official announcement of departure comes at the end of a week that saw the school presidents hold multiple meetings with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco. The commissioner had attempted to keep the current conference intact, according to reports.

“The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the Big East Conference,” Aresco said in a statement. “The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East.”

For Harrington and St. John’s, the focus of their conference needed to return to basketball. This was never going to be a possibility in the modern day Big East, which the president said he understood as necessary for some of the other schools.

“Our focus clearly has to be on basketball as our major sport,” Harrington said. “It was more and more difficult to maintain that focus when many of the priorities of the conference were on football.”

As the next part of the realignment saga unfolds with a new conference, Harrington says that St. John’s will look to make their own path along with their partners.

“If we are going to control our future and shape our destiny and keep our focus on basketball this was the way to do it for us,” Harrington said.