Tired of being yanked around and pulled toward whatever end zone led to the biggest pot of gold, the seven Catholic schools of the Big East conference did something about it and severed ties with the historic league on Saturday.
The already announced departures of Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC, along with West Virginia (Big 12) were followed by the recent announcements by Rutgers (Big Ten) and Louisville (ACC) of their intent to leave the Big East. That’s not counting the not-too-distant exits of Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami – all to the ACC.
None of those schools left for greener basketball pastures. All did leave for green though, the green of the football field that translates into the all-important green – money.
So, rather than being pulled along for another pending shift in what was left in the Big East, the seven Catholic schools joined together and formally announced their decision to start their own conference.
It will be a basketball conference.
And a darned good one.
“We believe it was an important move for us to take charge of our own destiny,” Villanova president Fr. Peter Donohue said after the Wildcats’ 75-65 victory over Delaware on Sunday at the Pavilion. “We are very excited about this possibility.”
“It’s the ability to control our destiny and control our futures,” Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro said. “It’s time to work together as a group to control our own destiny.”
Admittedly, the Wildcats are sad to see the Big East fall apart. They had been in the league since 1980. Won a national title in 1985. Created rivalries with Georgetown, UConn and Syracuse.
But it’s hard to stop change – or, in this case, dollars.
“It’s sad, it really is sad,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “Nothing is the same. The only thing in life that is definite is change.”
Said Nicastro, “The association (with the Big East) has served us extremely well for sure. It has been part of the fabric of our programs, for sure. But we’re looking forward to move forward and move forward for a position of strength.”
There are lots of details that still need to be worked out, beginning with when the Catholic 7 – which will include Villanova, DePaul, St. John’s, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marquette, Providence – will begin play in the new league and what the name of the league will be.
Nicastro said the members are contracted to the Big East through June 2015, though we’ve seen schools exit contracts early. The Big East name, perhaps crucial to the initial credibility and success of the new league, remains up for debate.
“It’s not clear at this point,” Nicastro said of who owns the Big East name. “It’s up for negotiation.”
The Villanova athletic direct said the new league would not be limited to Catholic schools only, and hoped to add on to the seven schools which currently comprise the league. Among the schools which have been rumored to join the new league are Atlantic 10 members Butler, Xavier and Dayton.
“The number seven isn’t a great number,” Nicastro admitted.
What is great, for Nicastro and Villanova, is to finally put to bed the constant worry about being pulled and pushed into whatever direction the football winds blow. Now, the Wildcats – and the rest of the Catholic 7 – and focus on building a nationally powerful basketball conference.
“It is empowering,” Nicastro said, “to have a clear direction to have a group of schools who are playing to their strengths and not being distracted by those issues.”
Villanova AD Vince Nicastro, President Fr. Peter Donohue and coach Jay Wright