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7 leaving Big East to build basketball conference
By RALPH D. RUSSO
(AP) -- The seven Big East schools that don't play major college football are separating from the conference many of them founded so they can build a league focused on basketball.
The presidents of the seven schools made the announcement Saturday, two days after their intentions were first reported.
"Earlier today we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established," a statement said. "Under the context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward."
The seven schools venturing out on their own are: Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence.
"The institutions that have been committed to men's basketball have made a decision that they are going to continue to stay committed to men's basketball," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said after the Warriors beat Savannah State in Milwaukee.
Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence helped form the Big East, which started playing basketball in 1979. Villanova joined in 1980, and Marquette and DePaul in 2005. The Big East began playing football in 1991.
"It's shocking," former Connecticut star Caron Butler said after helping the Los Angeles Clippers beat Milwaukee on Saturday night. "The traditional Big East is just gone. As a fan of the game, I think you're going to be cheated. There are a lot of rivalries and history. Not seeing UConn and Georgetown play each other. I think you lose fans with that."
The basketball schools gave no details about their plans, such as when they want to depart and whether they will attempt to keep the name Big East.
"St. John's would love to keep the Big East name," said the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, the president of St. John's, who emphasized he was speaking only for his school. "I would like to hear what the football schools think and then try to make a compromise."
Big East bylaws require departing members give the conference 27 months' notice, but the league has negotiated early departures with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia over the past year. Those schools all had to pay exit fees. Big East rules do allow schools to leave as a group without being obligated to pay exit fees.
"I think what the statement basically says is within the structure of the Big East conference we have the opportunity as a group to exercise a right to, in an orderly fashion, separate from the conference," Georgetown athletic director Lee Reed said after the Hoyas played in Washington. "The details of all the questions that you're thinking about, those things have been considered, but now is certainly not the time to discuss those in a public setting."
There also are millions of dollars in NCAA basketball tournament money and exit fees collected recently that will need to be divvied up.
The latest hit to the Big East leaves Connecticut, also a founding member, Cincinnati, Temple and South Florida - the four current members with FBS football programs - as the only schools currently in the Big East that are scheduled to be there beyond the 2013-14 school year.
"The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the Big East," Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. "The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East. The 13 members of the conference are confident and united regarding our collective future."
The Big East is still lined up to have a 12-team football conference next season with six new members, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only. Rutgers and Louisville, which both announced intentions to leave the Big East last month, are scheduled to compete in the conference next year.
Notre Dame, which is moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, also is expected to continue competing in the Big East next season in all sports but football and hockey.
Also joining the Big East next season are Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU for all sports.
As for the departing seven, there has already been speculation they will try to align with other Catholic schools that have strong basketball programs, such as Xavier, Dayton, Creighton or even Gonzaga, which is located in Spokane, Wash.
"There's no target number (of members)," Reed said. "I think it would be safe to say that at the right time, at the proper time, that those things will be discussed and dealt with."
As for the schools such as Cincinnati and Connecticut, which has been trying to get out of the Big East but have nowhere to go, they are trying to stay positive.
"We will work diligently to position (Cincinnati) in the most favorable light moving forward," Cincinnati AD Whit Babcock said. "We will continue to compete and win."
Aresco was hired during the summer after a long career as a television executive, and given the task of trying to bring stability to the Big East and help negotiate a new lucrative television contract that could keep the league viable in the long run.
Since being hired, 10 more schools have announced they are leaving the conference and television negotiations had to be put on hold after Louisville and Rutgers said they were leaving.
The Big East moved quickly to replace Rutgers and Louisville with Tulane (all sports) and East Carolina (football only), starting in 2014. The latest moves seem to have been the last straw for the basketball schools.
"We believe at St. John's it is important we shape our future rather than have it happen to us," Harrington said. "We believe we will be in a stronger position to compete and that's so important for ours student-athletes and the institution."
AP College Basketball Writer Jim O'Connell in New York, AP Sports Writer Joseph White in Washington and AP freelance writer Dave Boehler in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
Updated December 15, 2012