Georgetown, rest of Catholic seven, intend to add Butler and Xavier to its new league

February 28, 2013

Georgetown and its fellow Catholic breakaway members of the Big East intend to add Butler and Xavier to the new, basketball-centered conference they’re forming and start play as a nine-member league next season, according to a person close to the process.

The plan is to add other members the following year, with Creighton and Dayton among a handful of schools receiving strong consideration. The goal is to reach a 12-team conference in a gradual, orderly fashion, whether that takes two or more years.

The new league intends to keep the Big East name, which fits its members more naturally than it does the revolving cast of schools they’re leaving behind.

The so-called Catholic seven — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova — announced in December that they were leaving the Big East, which in the past decade had morphed into a football-driven conference whose members increasingly demanded more revenue and a broader geographical reach.

With many of their longtime rivals departing, Syracuse and Pittsburgh chief among them, the Catholic schools that didn’t play big-time football decided to form a basketball-centric league based in urban markets with a strong basketball tradition.

In the past two months, those schools’ presidents have worked with legal and media advisers on the logistics and timing of their departure from the Big East and their growth strategy going forward.

While both sides acknowledged privately that an earlier separation would help everyone move on, Georgetown and its brethren are moving more aggressively than anticipated in starting their league with the 2013-14 season.

A driving factor could be the August launch of Fox Sports’ new 24-hour network, Fox Sports 1, which is positioning itself as a rival of ESPN.

ESPN last week announced a seven-year TV deal with the Big East as it’s configured today (a 15-school league whose membership is in flux). And Fox Sports is believed to be an avid suitor of the new basketball league, which will deliver a strong basketball following in such major northeast markets as New York (St. John’s, Seton Hall), Boston (Providence), Philadelphia (Villanova), and Washington (Georgetown), as well as Chicago (DePaul) and Milwaukee (Marquette).

The addition of Butler adds Indianapolis, while Xavier restores the Cincinnati market. If Omaha-based Creighton joins later, it would be the league’s lone member west of the Mississippi.

Fox Sports has scheduled a Tuesday news conference in New York to unveil to advertisers its programming plans for the new sports network. The event would make an ideal showcase for the launch of a new basketball league with storied roots.

According to sources, financial terms of the breakaway schools’ departure from the Big East haven’t been finalized. Nor has the question of which league will get to call itself the Big East, although the new league is aggressively pursuing it.

Of the seven schools that founded the Big East in 1979, four belong to the new league: Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s and Seton Hall. Two (Syracuse and Boston College) will have left for the ACC by next fall. And only one (Connecticut) will remain.

Butler, which has no religious affiliation, has reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 four times in the past decade and the championship game in two of the past three years. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 20, with a 22-6 record, and compete in 10,000-seat Hinkle Fieldhouse, which was built in 1928 and used as a setting in the movie Hoosiers.

Xavier (16-11) has reached the NCAA tournament’s final 16 five times in the past decade. Both Butler and Xavier currently compete in the 16-member Atlantic 10.

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