BIG EAST Conference, Catholic 7 Schools Announce Separation

Drew Hallowell

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

The Big East Conference and the seven Catholic members who had previously announced an intention to separate and form a new league have announced that they have reached an agreement. The two sides will formally split this summer, with the "Catholic 7" becoming a separate conference on July 1, 2013.

The agreement, in principle, has been under negotiation for the past several weeks and will not be finalized until the Big East's Board of Directors formally votes to approve the deal -- which is expected to happen soon.

"I am pleased that this agreement has been reached," said Big East commissioner Mike Aresco. "With the long-term well-being of our outstanding institutions and their student-athletes of paramount importance, each group worked through a number of complex issues in an orderly, comprehensive and amicable manner marked by mutual respect. We part ways as friends and colleagues and look forward to the success of both conferences."

As for the "Big East" name, which the Catholic 7 are believed to have been seeking, the initial press release did not address it's disposition. This was likely because the Big East football schools have not yet finalized their new branding. Reports emerged yesterday that "America 12" was a leading candidate to name the football schools' league, but Aresco has released the following statement on that matter:

"We have not chosen a new conference name at this time and there are no favorites. We are going through a thoughtful evaluation of potential names for our conference, and will select a name in a timely manner through a comprehensive and deliberate process that involves our presidents and athletic directors as well as constituents from inside and outside the conference. We are excited about the prospect of re-branding and look forward to working with our institutions and our fans as we engage in this process."

Through the Big East's release, the Catholic 7 schools -- Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul -- praised the FBS side's leadership in working with them to reach the agreement at-hand.

"We are grateful to Commissioner Michael Aresco for spearheading an agreement that truly represents the best path forward for each of our great institutions and the thousands of student-athletes who compete for our schools annually," the Catholic school presidents said in a statement. "It is a great credit to Mike, our colleagues, and all involved that we were able to work through a host of highly complex and time-sensitive issues in such a short period of time. We are pleased that we reached this amicable and mutually-beneficial separation by approaching each issue with a spirit of cooperation and shared respect."

Few details of the agreement were available other than the effective date of separation, but the two sides of the split have agreed on some form(s) of "continued cooperation and playing opportunities between the conferences." That could come in different forms, perhaps a scheduling arrangement between the leagues, or a more formal Big East-vs-America 12 Challenge, similar to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge or former Big East/SEC Challenge.

The seven Catholic schools will also retain NCAA Tournament units that will pay out a minimum of a minimum $7.25 million later this year, and will continue to pay (until they phase out after a six-year period) for a few more years. That number would be higher if the combination of Villanova, Geogetown and Marquette all win games in the NCAA tournament later this month.

According to Aresco, the football schools will keep their conference offices in Providence for the foreseeable future, and the current Big East staff members will remain with the FBS conference after the split -- the new Big East will hire new staff to run their league office (the location of which remains unsettled).

The new Big East might keep it's headquarters in Providence, according to AJerseyGuy.com, with Washington, D.C. also a strong contender to be the new home base. They will also need to hire a new commissioner to run that office.

A separate deal will need to be completed with Madison Square Garden for the Catholics' Big East Tournament to use the arena. The FBS conference's basketball tournament will look for a new location, with Hartford's XL Center reportedly among the venues interested in hosting the event.

Both sides will have to cover expensive legal fees, which Mark Blaudschun reports have added up to nearly $15 million for the FBS schools.

The Hartford Courant also reports that the new Big East has signed a deal with Fox Sports that is worth approximately $3 million annually to each member.

UPDATED 3/9: According to Philly.com, since neither side of the Big East will have a full-complement of schools playing in all of the non-revenue sports, it is likely that the two sides will compete in sports like Women's Lacrosse and Field Hockey as a combined league. According to that article, the to-do list remaining for the new Big East includes:

The league has no commissioner, league office or staff, still needs to negotiate a new deal with Madison Square Garden and finalize its membership. A television deal worth a reported $40 million a year has been struck with Fox Sports to be announced in the days ahead.

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