The Catholic 7 are leaving the Big East as they announced earlier in the basketball season, and it seems that the league they are joining will be the Big East. At least according to a report from ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Andy Katz and Dana O'Neill, the Catholic 7 (Villanova, St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul) will purchase the Big East name from the FBS football schools for an undisclosed sum of money (reportedly agreeing to "take considerably less money from a reserve pool," of exit fees and NCAA Tournament shares that was held by the conference).
The FBS side became more interested in selling, it seems, because their new ESPN television contract will not require them to keep the name.
Things have also picked up on the league's planned start-date, which will reportedly move up as the C7 plan to form their new conference this summer. To begin play with the fall sports season in 2013. Both Butler and Xavier are expected to join the conference, though neither has officially withdrawn from their current league, the Atlantic-10, at this point.
The C7 could stop there at just nine teams for next season, or move forward to form a 10 team league for 2013-14, but would expand to 12 teams in the 2014-15 season. ESPN expects that they will ad Creighton, Dayton and St. Louis after their first season. Georgetown's President John DeGioia told the Washington Post that 12 was ultimately a more likely number.
Dayton is a surprise in that group, since they have little track record of success in the Atlantic 10 when it comes to things that matter, like making the NCAA tournament and winning there. ESPN's Joe Lunardi, however, did include Dayton in his 12-team configuration to maximize RPI in the new conference, and while the Flyers may not be at the top of the "New Big East" leaderboard every season, they may help to keep the middle from getting too soft.
According to DeGioia the criteria for membership that the schools consider were:
Schools that put the student-athletes' interests first, both in the classroom and on the playing fields; school whose athletic departments are conducted with integrity; and schools that play exceptional basketball.
A report from former Boston Globe journalist Mark Blaudschun suggests that Creighton would be the 10th team to join with Butler and Xavier in 2013. The Big East basketball conference would then go to 12 members with two of St. Louis, Dayton and Richmond, with Richmond being considered, "on hold."
FOX Spots Network has been pushing for the league to kick off next season, to coincide with the launch of it's Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 cable channels. The network reportedly enticed the C7 schools to break away from the Big East by offering a significant amount of money for their television rights and reports put the payout at around $3 million per school annually. ESPN president John Skipper told SI.com that he believed that Fox, which will be fourth behind ESPN, ESPN2 and the Golf Channel, in total household distribution among cable sports networks when it launches.
FOX also reportedly asked the league to expand to at least 12 teams in order to maximize their value to the broadcaster.
An announcement of the television contract and new members Butler and Xavier could come as soon as next week, according to an SI.com source. FOX plans to do a presentation to advertisers in New York City on Tuesday to pitch the league, which will already have the ability to offer big time college football, Major League baseball, NASCAR and other sports content.
While ESPN reports a per-year payout of $3 million per school for the new conference, Sports Illustrated has written that number could rise as high as $4 million per school, depending on the ultimate size of the league. SI's report suggests that the broadcaster may be offering above the market value for the league in the hopes that the additional money will help to grow the programs at these schools.
For Butler and Xavier, each would have to pay out $2 million to the Atlantic-10 Conference to depart, lawsuit-free, with less than one year's notice, according to Andy Katz. The Catholic 7 have been negotiating issues related to their exit with current Big East commissioner Mike Aresco since announcing their move and may be able to get out in time, though starting play in the fall is a fast schedule for the schools, who still need to set up an administrative structure for the league.
The move could also push Notre Dame to seek an earlier exit to the ACC after having decided to spend next season in the old Big East conference with the C7 schools. Rutgers and Louisville will remain with the FBS side of the Big East next season, regardless of what the Catholic schools do.
ESPN's sources noted that the location of the post-season basketball tournaments from both sides of the league were unknown. The FBS schools technically hold the contract with Madison Square Garden, but if MSG sours on the league's changing membership, they could potentially exercise an out-clause in the deal.
Blaudschun also reported on his blog that Marquette had lobbied for Creighton as the 10th team in, while Georgetown and other eastern schools wanted Richmond in their league. It seems that Marquette won that battle, if the ESPN report is correct, though there remains time for the league presidents to reverse course on the other schools to be invited.
The breakaway Big East will have to appoint a commissioner sometime soon if their league is going to be ready for next season. Some reports have had George Mason's Athletic Director Tom O'Connor as a leading candidate, while Blaudschun (who had previously suggested that West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich), reports that the group has hired the Russell Reynolds search firm to help them choose a commissioner — the same firm that the Big East used to hire Mike Aresco.
The schools will also reportedly sign a grant-of-rights, surrendering their Television media rights to the new conference for the entire length of their television deal with FOX Sports. That move will make it very difficult for a member to leave the conference before the television deal has run its course. That is considered a much stronger creator of stability than the exit fee arrangements used by the Big East and ACC, and was employed by the Big 12 to help create stability after Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri left that league.