Catholic 7 Retain Big East Name, Begin Play Next Season?

Despite much media and fan hand-wringing over the effects of the Big East realignment, Catholic members weigh their options.

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BIG EAST & Catholic 7 Schools Reach Agreement

Today's announcement from the Big East offices in Providence makes the agreement to part ways this summer official.


Butler's Stevens denies Big East talk

When Andy Katz chatted with Butler University head coach Brad Stevens last night, he denied that he had heard anything about the Bulldogs moving to the new Big East next season. That doesn't mean that it isn't happening, however, just that the head coach hasn't been told to prepare for that yet.

Of course, that's because multiple sources within the seven schools departing to the new Big East say they were focused solely on exiting the old Big East before looking at expansion and new members. So, it's not surprising that Butler is in the dark -- for now. Stevens said he has to operate as if the Bulldogs are in the A-10 in 2013-14. He said the team is scheduling as if it's in the A-10 because that's all he has been told.

Once the separation agreement is in place, talks with Butler and Xavier will likely heat up, and it may be tough to say no. Butler would go from hosting schools like Youngstown State at home to bringing in Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova -- more than a slight improvement over their Horizon League days.


Exit negotiations continue

The Catholic 7 are looking to secure an exit from the Big East that will happen before next season, likely taking their old Conference's name with them.


Big East divorce isn't final just yet

The Big East football schools, meeting in Atlanta (for some reason) today, haven't agreed to any plan for the Catholic 7's exit, according to Mark Blaudschun. What they have agreed, is that they are willing to allow the schools to depart after this season and they are willing to transfer the rights to the Big East name to the new conference -- if the price is right, of course.

Reports pushing the whole thing as a done-deal that arose yesterday were perhaps a product of FOX Sports' exuberance to promote it's new venture, but the i's remain un-dotted, the t's remain uncrossed.

People went into the meeting in Atlanta on Friday morning with an attitude of maybe we can do this, maybe we won't-at least right away. Let's look at the dollar figures, which are in the millions of dollars range.

All of this will eventually be worked out. The Catholic 7 will leave in July. They will take the Big East name. might cost them more than they thought. And the word amicable is rapidly fading from the use of descriptions regarding the talks. [emphasis added]

The football schools likely expect that the Catholic 7 will abandon most, or all, of their claims to the large exit fee and NCAA Tournament-share war chest that the conference had accumulated since the Pittsburgh and Syracuse departure.

The process of setting the league up by July is going to be interesting for the schools once their separation agreement is finalized and in-place. The new league needs a commissioner, a staff, offices, bylaws, TV contracts and, maybe most-importantly, a schedule.


REPORT: C7 to join 'Big East' this summer

As the Catholic 7 schools work their way down their to-do list, it seems that some moves are still being made by the schools as they form a new conference.


Memphis declined C7 interest

A report from the Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted that the Catholic 7 have reached out to Memphis, but the Tigers are unlikely to join the hoops league.


Catholic 7 league starting in '14

Next season will likely be the last one for the Big East Catholic school's association with the Big East conference, according to an ESPN report.


Fox Sports meeting with C7 reps

The COO of Fox Sports, Larry Jones, along with a legal representative will meet with Neal Pilson, of Pilson Communications and Joe Leccese, a co-chair of law firm Proskauer Rose's sports department (and 1982 Georgetown Alum), today in Manhattan. The discussions will be preliminary, but could be a first step toward the Catholic 7 signing off on a new television contract with the Newscorp-owned broadcaster.

The C7 Presidents and ADs will not be present at the meeting today, according to Sports Illustrated, but had retained Pilson and Leccese's firms to represent them last week. The league will likely need to firmly establish its membership and launch date before any contract could be finalized.

The launch date could be as soon as next season if the Catholic 7 can negotiate their exit from the Big East and if Fox or another television partner is motivated to get started. Fox is aiming to launch Fox Sports 1 sometime in Fall 2013.

Fox is hoping to transform the well-distributed (though not as well as ESPN) SPEED Network into an all-sports network, likely to be called Fox Sports 1, but to do that successfully, they will need a substantial amount of live sports content. The cable sports network has not been officially announced or reported at this point, but it is an expected move.

Fox recently obtained an ownership interest in the New York Yankees' wildly-successful regional sports network, YES, and has other regional networks in Detroit, Ohio, California, the Southwest, Midwest, South, Upper Midwest, Florida, covering much of the country. They have also been the partner of the Big Ten conference, owning a piece of the Big Ten Network as well. Those stakes may allow the Fox national network to offer content from Major League baseball as well as the Big Ten conference as well.

The Catholic 7 could potentially offer a large inventory of basketball games during January and February to help Fox fill its airwaves.

Fox still needs to complete a carriage contract with Comcast, the nation's biggest cable provider, before their new network will be ready for launch. That deal is expected this month, barring setbacks.

A 12-year deal is the preference of the Catholic school Presidents, according to SI, who reports that the amount the schools will receive annually is "believed to be in the neighborhood of $3 million per school" -- less than an earlier report -- though the final amount could be more or less depending on the terms agreed to.

The SI report also notes that the league will likely consist of 12 schools, though it isn't yet clear whether they will launch with that many or start with 10 and plan to expand later. More schools, especially with name-brands, will offer more inventory content to the new network, and would likely be more valuable to them.

Xavier and Butler remain favorites to be a part of the league, while Creighton, Dayton and St. Louis are also in the mix, but SI reports that VCU has emerged as a strong candidate in recent weeks. Catholic 7 athletic directors have been adamant that their league would not be a parochial one, and the addition of VCU would offer some basketball strength as well as breaking that mold.

If the C7 ultimately agrees to work with Fox, fans will have to hope that the new network's ability to pick up otherwise-regional MLB games featuring the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Braves, Cardinals and others, will propel the network into a major player in the cable sports game. It may also be possible for Fox to air some games on its over-the-airwaves network to sweeten the deal and ensure major national exposure, though it hasn't yet been reported that that arrangement is on offer.

In the end, $3 million annually would be a good increase for the Catholic 7 that allows them to keep up with inflation, though it would be less than they were hoping for from the old Big East conference at the outset of television negotiations there. A $5 million annual payout for those schools, as had been reported earlier, would be a substantial raise in value.

Of course, Fox won't be the only bidder. CBS Sports Network, with half the distribution of ESPN, has also expressed interest in the league, according to USA Today, and NBC Sports Network is expected to get involved as well. So far, the largest player in sports programming, ESPN, remains on the sidelines, however.

Update 1/10 - An ESPN report confirms most of the above, adding that the C7 would have a 12-member league under the above deal with Fox and would receive at least double their current average payout of around $1.5 million annually. C7 officials have also apparently begun the process of discussing candidates for league commissioner. They still apparently are considering offering a lower payout to the five invited members, a move that the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy has criticized.


Catholic 7 process is early, but interesting

For all intents and purposes, the Catholic 7 are entrepreneurs, creating a new venture from scratch. Reports indicate that they may be moving along in some departments already. Where does it all stand?


"Catholic 7" to Partner with Fox for TV Deal?

"Catholic 7" to Partner with Fox for TV Deal?


Who else will join the Catholic-7?

Popular and new possibilities are being discussed


Comment From Big East Commissioner Michael Aresco

After speculation, reports and confirmations travelled through the media pipelines, the Big East conference has now released a statement announcing that the seven non-FBS institutions of the league have informed the conference of their plan to withdraw. From this announcement we can infer that the plan is for the schools to withdraw, rather than dissolve the league and that the Big East conference will continue after admitting new members next season.

The statement from the league office is reproduced below:

"The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the BIG EAST Conference. The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the BIG EAST. The 13 members of the Conference are confident and united regarding our collective future. We have a strong Conference with respected national universities, and are working together to forge the future. We have a variety of options, and are looking forward with great partnership, collegiality and optimism."

The Presidents of the "Catholic 7" universities also released a statement, after holding a conference call this morning to discuss and vote on some of their plans to withdraw from the league:

"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. 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.

We are grateful to our Commissioner, Michael Aresco, for his exceptional leadership of the Big East Conference. We have been honored to be associated with the outstanding group of institutions that have made up the Big East. While we pursue this opportunity for our institutions, we believe the efforts of the past two years have established the foundation for an enduring national football conference.

We look forward to building this new foundation with an emphasis on elite competition and a commitment to the development of our students engaged in intercollegiate athletics. That is where we will now spend our energy as we move forward."


How exit fees will be handled; more on logistics

It still may not be clear how the Big East plans to handle the exit fees of the departing Catholic members, that matter will be determined by the bylaws and agreements that govern the situation as well as the school's proposed timeline for exit (27 months or sooner?). Those logistics are still being looked into by the schools, their attorneys and the conference office, with discussions from Friday continuing into a teleconference this morning, according to the Providence Journal.

"It's one thing to say you are leaving," a person familiar with the talks told the USA Today, "but the devil is in the details. They (the Catholic schools) did this, but I'm not sure if they have any idea of all the work that is involved in making it work. Right now, the Big East doesn't have a television contract for basketball for next season."

The ProJo expanded on a previous report by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mike Jensen, explaining that a "departure document" exist that purports to allow the Big East's basketball schools to exit the conference as a group without paying an exit fee -- with 27 months notice. The name "Big East," would default to the football side, but the basketball group can negotiate to keep it. It isn't clear how a departure document created in 2005 could supersede the conference bylaws, however, and there should be some questions as to that document's validity and ability to be considered legally-binding.

The goal is to begin the new conference play in the 2014-15 season, though it could take longer.

There are questions over whether the seven Catholic universities will have a right to claim some of the pot of exit fee money, which won't be fully paid until June. That amount would be anywhere from 40 to 60 million dollars, and perhaps more. The league has already collected some of those fees, but hasn't distributed them, and withdrawing members forfeit their rights to claim a share of those.

Of course, the Catholic schools would like to get a share of those fees, which are substantial and will help them kickstart themselves going into their new venture.

According to a USA Today report, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is working to negotiate a plan that would distribute $20 million in exit fees already paid to the conference to all 10 active, full members. That would give each school a quick $2 million boost. The remaining balance of exit fees which the league has yet to collect, may or may not be reachable by the basketball schools.

Another issue that these school will face is what sort of television contract the Big East will have next season — in which they are still slated to play in the league. Mike Aresco is still working on landing a television contract for the conference, but the league has no TV contracts in place for next year, so they will need to hope that Aresco can land something despite his unknown league membership. Exposure could be limited next season for the hoops schools.

The ProJo report notes that television revenue is a concern that might limit the league to just 10 members, unless they felt the value of expanding to 12 is good enough to warrant it. Xavier is essentially a lock to be invited, and Butler isn't far behind after two consecutive NCAA title game appearances. There has apparently been some debate on a third invitee, with Dayton, St. Louis, Richmond, VCU and Creighton have all been mentioned by various media outlets. St. Louis has the largest TV market in that group, but Richmond and VCU are in a fast-growing state and Creighton has had excellent attendance and basketball success.

Gonzaga has also been tossed around in the media, but no reports seem to indicate that the Catholic Seven have seriously considered a West Coast move.

Once the league membership is finalized (or close), they will need to appoint a commissioner and seek a television contract of their own. Until then, the amounts that the league could earn will be a matter of estimate and speculation. They will also have to pick a location for a headquarters, which would likely be on the east coast and could be in any current C7 city, with some rumblings that it could be in New York.

The new league will try to keep Madison Square Garden around for it's conference tournament, but that may not be possible. It will depend on a number of factors, including wherever the MSG organization believes the money will be stronger. If that fails, they might be expected to have rotating tournament sites in the short-term.

Possibly the biggest winner of the move at Villanova would be the women's basketball program, which will no longer need to beat UConn, Rutgers, Louisville and others to built an NCAA Tournament resume. Harry Peretta's program will still face competition to get there. The NCAA may also need to expand the Women's tournament from 64 teams in order to accommodate the new conference's automatic bid, which may make at-large bids slightly more available.


How will they do it?

There are a myriad of considerations for the Big East "Catholic 7" (C7) to consider. There is a cost to leave the conference, and while they may be able to have the $5 million exit fee waived, they would still have to wait 27 months to do so according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy. So, the withdrawal of these schools might be cheap but slow, or perhaps quick and expensive.

The bylaws in effect a little over a year ago, dated October 2011, don't contain any of the provisions for splitting up or dissolving the conference that have been reported by "sources," so the league has either amended those bylaws in the past year or the provisions being referenced are mythical. Attorneys for the C7 schools will be reviewing the currently active and relevant conference documents to determine what the basketball schools' options are.

One option that has been reported is dissolution of the conference. If the schools could vote to dissolve (which USA Today believes would require at least two football school votes), the conference administrator — either commissioner Mike Aresco or some appointed trustee — will begin the process of winding up league affairs; closing out contracts, liquidating assets, and collecting amounts owed to the conference to be distributed to the conference members after all debts are paid.

That would mean that the conference office would attempt to collect exit fees still outstanding, but the football schools that owe them may try to fight that issue, which means that some of the money available may have to be spent on court fees to sue to collect. It isn't very straightforward that any yet-unpaid fees would ever become due, as the dissolution of the conference likely makes any exit fee unreasonable as liquidated damages.

If the Catholic Schools did manage to dissolve the league they would also have to deal with lawsuits from the 10 or so incoming football members, who would no longer have a ready conference waiting for them. Dissolving would breach the Big East's contracts with those schools and would potentially be a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing that attaches to such contractual relationships — in order to head that possibility off at the pass, the C7 schools could attempt to negotiate a dissolution with those incoming schools to allow the dissolution (which would likely result in them forming a new league with the football leftovers).

Nobody wants to fight 10 or more lawsuits.

If the basketball schools simply withdraw, there are questions of what would happen to their NCAA Tournament shares — earned primarily by Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette — which are worth millions per year to the schools. They would likely have to leave the NCAA shares earned by departed members, Syracuse, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and West Virginia with their former league.

As for the Big East name? Nobody knows who would get those rights, but the remaining football schools may be willing to ditch the name — they don't need it to keep their BCS AQ for the last season of that system — so it's probably something that could be negotiated. It may not be an issue if the C7 schools decide to rebrand, however, which may be a wise move.

The rights to hold a conference tournament at Madison Square Garden would disappear if the conference dissolved, but would technically remain with the Big East football schools if the basketball members were to simply dissolve. Even so, MSG apparently has the ability to get out of their existing contract if the league changes significantly. So, in either case, it would seem that the decision to go to either side of the Big East split (or to neither of them) would be entirely up to the powers-that-be at MSG Sports.

My guess is that MSG would host whichever conference offers them the most money and the longest commitment. That said, the basketball conference isn't counting on landing it — Marquette sources are talking up a "rotating" tournament site.

By withdrawing from the conference, the C7 forfeits any portion of exit fees that they haven't already received as well as any conference revenue they might be due prior to exit. Which might not be a concern if the outstanding exit fees are likely to be ruled unreasonable upon dissolution of the league anyway. For the fees that were already collected, the C7 likely needs to push for a vote to distribute those fees prior to a withdrawal to "squeeze the juice" out of the conference before leaving — a move that could also result in some lawsuits.

Either way, nothing will be finalized until all of the logistical and legal issues are considered.

Once they determine the method through which they will leave they will have to set up a new conference. Hire a new commissioner, open new league offices, write new bylaws, incorporate and all of the other legal processes needed to set up a business. They will have to cover the costs of all of that. Some current Big East employees would be expected to join the new conference office, but probably not commissioner Mike Aresco.

They will have enough members to form an NCAA conference and enough shared-history to have an automatic bid to the NCAA basketball tournament, but they will need to add members. Xavier will be invited to join, maybe as a charter member, as will other schools — reports say at least two more. Ten teams would allow a home-and-home round robin with 18 games, any fewer and an 18 game schedule would be impossible, causing the current C7 schools to have to rework planned non-conference schedules.

Some of the other schools mentioned have been Butler, Dayton, Creighton, and St. Louis. Gonzaga has also reportedly expressed some interest if the league were willing to expand to a larger national footprint. The new league would not likely consider any FBS schools from the old Big East, though Pete Thamel has suggested Temple might be a possibility if Villanova wasn't opposed.

After membership is at least somewhat settled, they will need to seek a television deal and start planning their schedule and other logistics.


Big East hoops school talked split

The long rumored Big East split up may eventually come to fruition after a meeting of Big East Catholic school officials in New York apparently discussed the issue.

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