No, the sad-sack Big East didn't find a miraculous way to stop hemorrhaging schools, nor re-negotiate its TV deal with ESPN that will pay six times less than what it was offered just two years ago. The Big East, one of the most storied basketball conferences in the country, wasn't able to swing a last-minute agreement to retain Syracuse or Pitt or Louisville or Notre Dame. But they have sold the name "Big East" to the departing Catholic 7 schools. So the New Big East will have the name and MSG and a TV deal with Fox and a solid top-to-bottom membership. The Old Big East will be a wasteland, but at least we don't have to call it the Big East anymore.
ESPN reports that the Catholic 7—Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, DePaul, Providence, St. John's, and Seton Hall—will announce a deal next week to be the anchor basketball conference of Fox's new sports network launching this summer. The deal will reportedly pay each school $3-4 million per year. There's still the tricky matter of some schools getting out of their current situations, but this New Big East is now expected to begin play in 2013-14.
They'll start with nine or 10 teams: in addition to the Catholic universities, Xavier and Butler plan to leave the Atlantic 10, and Creighton has become the odds-on favorite to complete an even 10 by ditching the MVC. Within a few years, Dayton and St. Louis are expected to bring the total up to 12.
Rick Pitino, who with Louisville will spend one more year in the fracturing Old Big East before heading to the ACC, says the breakaway teams deserve to bring the conference name with them.
"I think they should (get the name)," Pitino told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview Thursday. "I think without question, the Catholic 7 deserves the Big East name. They should have, in my estimation, broken away from the football schools three years ago. I think they waited way too long. They should have been fed up a long time ago.
"You have some of the great, great traditions in college basketball. They should have gotten together, made their strong basketball league, sell their own deal and they should be the Big East. They should be playing in Madison Square Garden."
(SI reports that it's expected the New Big East will finalize a deal to play its conference tournament at MSG. The Old Big East will probably hold theirs at the Elks Lodge off Route 17 in Paramus.)
With some clarity emerging, the major question remains: what will the Old Big East call itself, now that it's been condemned to damnatio memoriae? For a conference that tried to vulture other programs and ended up being the carrion, it's a "chance to start fresh," one sports marketer tells ESPN, but it'll surely hurt to lose the cachet and history of the Big East name. Might we suggest "Conference USA?" (Conference USA can change its name to the Sun Belt.)