And now, seven soon-to-be former Big East schools are about to do the same to the Atlantic 10 — and perhaps others.
According to several people with knowledge of the situation, the group that has come to be known as college basketball’s “Catholic 7” will eventually grow to 12 — perhaps not all of them Catholic — when they formally begin play as a conference.
The man who has been charged with piecing together the new league is Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, a job handed to him, according to those who know, in large part because of a lack of interest on the part of the presidents of St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, DePaul, Marquette and Providence.
There has been a good deal of speculation about who the other schools in the new league might be since the Catholic 7 informed the Big East in December that they were leaving the floundering league. In all likelihood, four schools are virtual locks to be invited: Dayton, Xavier, Saint Louis and Butler. The first three are Catholic schools. DeGioia and friends would probably be willing to make an exception for Butler because the school has become a national basketball power and would make the league’s television package a good deal more lucrative.
The conference leaders want six eastern and six western — really, midwestern — schools. The eastern division of the league will consist of Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence and either Richmond (also a non-Catholic school) or Siena — a late entry but a potentially appealing one because it’s a Catholic school that (more importantly) plays in a 15,500-seat arena in Albany, N.Y.
The western conference would consist of Marquette, DePaul, Saint Louis, Xavier, Dayton and Butler. If Butler decides not to leave the Atlantic 10 — which it joined only this season — or if the presidents decide to go with Catholic schools only, the University of Detroit Mercy would come into the picture. Creighton, another Catholic school considered a potential candidate, is considered too far west (Omaha, Neb.) for teams in non-revenue sports to travel.
If Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis and Butler were to leave the Atlantic 10, it would be devastating for that conference, which would suddenly go from a 16-team league with a solid group of basketball schools to a 10-team league (Temple is leaving for the Big East and Charlotte for Conference USA after this season). It would still have Virginia Commonwealth, but no other school that has been a serious player on the national map in recent years.
Two Atlantic 10 teams that will not be asked to join the new league are Saint Joseph’s and La Salle, because Villanova would block any move to add another team from Philadelphia.