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Big East completes football-basketball breakup
Saturday - 3/9/2013, 9:28am EST
RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- When the Big East divorce was complete, the basketball schools got the early separation they wanted, the name of the conference many of them founded 34 years ago and the chance to keep calling Madison Square Garden their home.
The football schools? They got 100 million reasons to move on.
The Big East made its split official Friday, with seven basketball schools breaking away from the football-playing members in a deal that takes effect July 1.
Commissioner Mike Aresco told The Associated Press that the seven Catholic schools which are leaving to form a basketball-centric conference will get the Big East name, along with the opportunity to play their league tournament in New York at Madison Square Garden, where it has been held for decades.
The football members, most of which are newcomers to a conference that has been ravaged by realignment, get a cash haul of roughly $100 million. That group includes just one founding Big East member -- Connecticut -- and will have to find a name for what is essentially a new league.
"It's been an arduous four months but we got to the right place," Aresco said in a phone interview. "I think both conferences have good futures."
Aresco, who will remain commissioner of the football league, would not disclose the financial part of the settlement.
A person familiar with the negotiations told the AP earlier this week that the football schools will receive about $100 million from a $110 million stash the conference had built up over the last two and a half years through exit and entry fees as well as NCAA men's basketball tournament funds.
Aresco said the football schools have not chosen a conference name and there are no favorites yet.
"We can get on with reinventing ourselves and re-establishing our brand," he said.
He also said they have not determined how the money from the separation agreement will be split among the members. The person familiar with the negotiations said the bulk of the money will go to holdover members Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida.
The split with the basketball members as well as a new TV deal with ESPN for the football schools still must be ratified by the school presidents. Aresco said that should come soon and without glitches.
Next on the agenda for the football schools, Aresco said, is to find a 12th member and venues for future basketball tournaments.
The settlement will bring the Big East back to its origins. When it was formed in 1979, it banded together a group of mostly small, mostly private schools located in and around Northeast cities.
"I don't mean to speak for all seven schools, but the schools that are breaking off, we're excited to start a new chapter," said Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson III, whose father led the Hoyas to three Final Four appearances in the 1980s.
"The Big East has been something that has been special to me personally and to everyone that's been involved with it. But we're in an era of change, and as much as that one segment, that one era, that one time of the Big East, will always be special, will always mean a lot ... it's time for change."
The seven schools breaking away from major college football include some of the Big East's most recognizable teams: Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul. They are expected to sign a television rights deal with Fox, add at least two more schools and start competing in the 2013 fall semester.
"We are grateful to Commissioner Mike Aresco for spearheading an agreement that truly represents the best path forward for each of our great institutions and the thousands of student-athletes who compete for our schools annually," the presidents of the seven basketball schools said in a joint statement.
The football conference now known as the Big East will consist next season of Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati, Temple, Rutgers and Louisville, along with incoming members Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston.
Rutgers and Louisville will likely be playing their last seasons in the conference before switching leagues, to the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.
Tulane and East Carolina are scheduled to join the football league in 2014, and Navy comes aboard in 2015. Tulsa is being targeted as the next addition to the conference.
The Big East started playing football in 1991, when it added Miami, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Temple, to go along with Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Boston College. The relationship between the football and basketball wings was always difficult to navigate, but Big East football was good enough to be a given a reserved spot in the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 and that gave the basketball schools access to millions of dollars in revenue they otherwise would not have had.