VILLANOVA, Pa. — Villanova's Big East banner that hangs in the rafters already has a white patch stitched over West Virginia.
The Wildcats can start putting X's over most of the rest of the conference schools, as well.
The Big East — a proud league built on basketball moments like the 1985 Wildcats stunning conference rival Georgetown in the national championship game — will soon become extinct, even if the name lives on in some form.
On Saturday, Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence all decided to officially separate from the conference many of them helped to build, so they can construct a league focused on basketball in this ever-changing landscape of college athletics. The seven departing schools have won three men's basketball national championships with 18 Final Four appearances.
The breakaway from the Big East was only the first step. It will be weeks and months of uncertainty, and possibly lawsuits, before the final structure over this transition period falls into place.
The seven schools must decide who will join them in the new hoops-heavy conference, when they want to depart, where they'll play a conference tournament, and whether they will attempt to keep the Big East name.
There is no true timetable for any of those decisions. Like so many of these reshaped conferences that stretch from coast to coast, this new league won't be confined to eastern teams. Xavier, Butler, Dayton, Creighton and Gonzaga, way out in Spokane, Wash., also don't play major college football and would be natural fits to align with these Catholic schools. The league also will consider nondenominational schools.
“They don't necessarily have to be Catholic, but it could happen,” said Patrick Lyons, Seton Hall's athletic director. “We're not restricting it. We also have to consider our football-playing Big East partners and what they plan to do. But we're extremely excited about being able to shape our future.”
Since news broke about the Big East split, Creighton officials have not commented to The World-Herald.
For most of the schools, leaving is bittersweet, but it is a move necessitated by earlier defections by Syracuse (ACC), Pittsburgh (ACC) and West Virginia (Big 12), and the heavy emphasis on the cash-cow football programs.
“I think the tipping point in the mind of all seven of us was the most recent departure of Louisville and Rutgers,” said Villanova's president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue. “There was a concern on all of our parts about where the conference was heading and where basketball was playing a part in the conference.”
About the only part of the defection the seven schools know for sure is that they're all unified as they journey onward.
“Right now, we're focused on moving forward together,” Lyons said. “All other decisions still have to be made, but we're going to stick together.”
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