According to multiple reports, the seven basketball-only schools breaking away from the old Big East could form their new conference as early as next season. It’s looking as though the basketball-only schools will purchase the Big East name from the leftover football schools, with a good chance that their conference tournament could remain in Madison Square Garden as well.
Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN are reporting that Butler and Xavier will leave the Atlantic 10 (paying a $2 million buyout), with SI noting that Creighton is the “slight favorite” to be the 10th team to join next season. Both publications are also reporting that St. Louis and Dayton will round out the conference the following season.
The future of the Catholic Seven basketball conference is expected to become more clear within the next week. An announcement about the television contract with Fox and the teams that the league plans to add could come as early as Tuesday at a Fox Television event in New York City.
Perhaps the most significant development is that the new league appears headed toward beginning play next season, with one source saying that there’s a “better chance” that the league starts in 2013-14 than in 2014-15.
Presidents at the Big East football schools are scheduled to meet in Atlanta on Friday where they’re expected to sign off on selling the Big East name to the Catholic Seven and finalize the exit fees. The Big East football schools are expected to keep nearly all of the exit fees the league earned from its spree of attrition and the leftover NCAA units from the departure of schools such as Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse.
That leaves the biggest looming question of how many teams will the Catholic Seven end up adding for its inaugural season. The chance exists that the league could start with nine teams if it begins next year, as the Atlantic 10 exit fees are $2 million per school. (In the non-football world, that’s a significant amount of money.) One of the biggest remaining snags is Butler and Xavier untangling themselves from the Atlantic 10, as an immediate departure would be expensive.
The league will eventually expand to 12 teams in the next few years, with Creighton, Dayton and Saint Louis expected to fill in the final three slots. If the league grows to 10 next year Creighton is considered a slight favorite for the 10th spot.
With 12 teams the league will provide more television inventory for Fox, which is starting a sports cable network this fall. No one wants to start the league to start next year more than Fox, as the batch of original sports programing would be critical to its lineup. Fox’s upfront presentation for its advertisers will be held Tuesday at the Marquis Theatre in New York at 4 p.m. There’s a press event already scheduled earlier that day, a logical time to roll out the plans for the new sports network and any details about the Catholic Seven.
Sports Illustrated also notes that the deal is expected to net each basketball-only school over $3 million per year, but notes that it could end up closer to $4 million.
The announcement, expected to come Tuesday, will mark the end of a stunning turn of events for the basketball-only schools who went from being at the mercy of football money for the better part of a decade to being a featured part a network that Fox is investing heavily in.