Big East's 7 Catholic Schools will separate: 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.

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