Hundreds of excited Creighton University fans and supporters turned out at Sokol Arena Wednesday to hear official word about the news that's been buzzing since last week: Creighton will be one of ten members of a new, basketball-centered, Big East athletic conference.
In a video recorded statement, Creighton president the Rev.Timothy Lannon, said the move presents great opportunities for the Jesuit university based in Omaha — and its basketball program.
"We see an opportunity for greatness," he said. "This is our moment."
Rick Virgin, Creighton's Vice President for Development, said the change presents both challenges and opportunities for him and his fund-raising staff.
Creighton will need to boost its athletic department budget to be competitive with the other Big East Schools, he said. But it also will have a higher national profile that will give it access to more philanthropists and potential students from across the country.
"This is an opportunity that doesn't come along very often," he said.
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Admissions director Sarah Richardson agreed. Though Creighton already has a "very strong profile" among the nation's top students, she expects that the new conference will give the University better exposure in areas where it's less well-known today.
"Our goal is to remain a strong national institution with a strong local base," she said.
Students Madison Bendorf, a sophomore from Bellevue and Amanda Brandt, a junior from Kearney, said they were thrilled by the change.
Bendorf said she's been a Bluejays fan since she was a little child. "It's an Omaha thing," she said.
"It's going to be big," she said, emphasizing the word "big."
Omaha attorney and Bluejay fan David Kramer talked about the pros and cons of the move.
He said he attended 32 out of 34 Creighton University basketball games this past season.
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That's going to be a lot harder next season, now that Creighton has officially become part of the Big East Conference.
"I'm going to have to significantly increase the travel budget to come close to what we did this year," said Kramer, who joined hundreds other Creighton fans and supporters for the video conference of the Big East Conference in Sokol Arena Wednesday.
"I'm not going to be able to pile four people in the Surburban and drive down to D.C. (home of new conference rival Georgetown,)" he said.
But it will be a major thrill to watch the Bluejays play in the next Big East conference in Madison Square Garden, described Wednesday as basketball's temple.
The Rev. Brian Shanley, president of Providence College in Rhode Island, said during the video conference that keeping the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden was a major coup for the new conference.
"It's a destination — even Omaha people are going to come," he said, winning a big cheer from the Sokol Arena crowd.
"The thrill of walking into the Garden is a thrill every basketball fan appreciates."
George Grieb, a retired Creighton Vice President and 40-year fan of the Bluejays, said he wouldn't have missed Wednesday's announcement.
"I want to be part of this," he said. "I think history's being made today."