In any form, such a breakup would be complicated and could conceivably kill the Big East.
Commissioner Mike Aresco conferred by phone with the leaders of those seven schools early Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because of the sensitivity of the discussions.
The person said the schools hadn’t notified the conference of their decision as of Thursday night.
The current Big East football membership includes only four schools — South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati, Temple — that are committed to the league beyond 2013. But there are 11 schools with plans to join the Big East in the next three years, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only in 2013.
Because those schools won’t be members until next summer, the non-football schools in the Big East could try to vote to dissolve the conference now. Or they could simply leave the league.
The schools that do not play FBS level football are St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and Villanova. Officials at those schools have concerns about the direction of the conference and feel as if they have little power to influence it.
If the schools were to break off on their own, they could do so without financial penalty. The Big East has provisions in its bylaws that allow a group of schools to leave without exit fees.
But what they would do remains unclear, as are the legal ramifications of their actions. There has been speculation those seven basketball schools could merge with the Atlantic 10 or possibly add schools from that league to create a basketball-only conference of smaller Catholic schools.
Who owns the rights to the name Big East could even be up in the air.
Most importantly there are of millions dollars that would have to be divvied up, including NCAA tournament money that is paid out every five years based on appearances, about $70 million in exit fees the Big East has collected from the recent departures and future possible exit fees from the latest members to announce they are leaving — Rutgers and Louisville.
What would happen to the current and future football members also is unknown. They could simply stick together and continue on the path they are headed. But if the basketball side of the Big East is weakened it could decrease the value of the conference to television networks. The league is currently trying to negotiate a crucial TV contract, but the instability has made it impossible.
The Big East had been hoping to sign a TV deal that could bring in as much as $100 million a year to its members, though some estimates have been a low as $60 million. If the TV money isn’t up to the Big East’s projections, it could cause some of the future members, especially Boise State and San Diego State, to reconsider joining.
The Mountain West and Conference USA have already lined up replacement members for the schools that have pledged to go to the Big East. Boise State and San Diego State would likely be able to slide right back into the Mountain West, but the seven current C-USA schools would have a less clear future.
All of those schools, even though they have not participated in the Big East, could be on the hook for exit fees to the conference if they did change plans. Or not.
The Big East’s long-term plan is to form a 12- to 14-team football conference that spans coast to coast, starting next year, while also having a large basketball league with many of its traditional members.
But the most recent defections of Louisville and Rutgers, along with the additions of Tulane for all sports and East Carolina for football only in 2014, have left the basketball schools wondering if it’s worth sticking with the plan.
Conference realignment has whittled away the Big East, costing it many of its oldest and most prominent members in the last 16 months. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are going to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year. West Virginia has moved to the Big 12. Louisville is headed to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten, maybe as soon as 2014.
Money doesn’t seem to be driving the basketball schools away. The Big East non-football members currently get about $1.6 million from the league’s television deals, and that share goes up to about $3.5 million when NCAA basketball tournament money is included. The football members make about $6 million currently.
Even if the Big East doesn’t reach its goals with a new TV contract, the Big East basketball schools are not likely to earn much more on their own. Though the difference between what they get without the football schools and what they get with them might be small enough to justify leaving them behind and taking control back of their programs.
“What’s football going to look like in 15 years?” Marquette athletic director Larry Williams told ESPN Radio 540 in Milwaukee this week. “They may not be in the power position they are in today. How do we as an elite basketball program fit into the landscape of this football dominated environment? I don’t have a complete answer for you, but that’s the question.”