NEW YORK — The breakaway basketball schools kept the Big East name and the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. In return, they left behind tens of millions of dollars to the football members.
That was easy to do with a lucrative television contract awaiting.
The new Big East launched as a 10-member league Wednesday with the additions of Butler, Creighton and Xavier and a 12-year deal with Fox. The agreement is worth about $500 million with the possibility of increasing to $600 million were the league to add more members.
The so-called Catholic 7 schools completed their exit from the Big East earlier this month.
They’ll start play with their three new colleagues in the fall.
Providence’s president, the Rev. Brian Shanley, was a student at the college when its athletic director, Dave Gavitt, spearheaded the creation of the Big East in 1979. The conference’s name was proposed by his father’s marketing firm.
“This name is bold. This name is strong. This name is memorable,” Shanley said. “That’s why it’s been important for us to keep that name and keep that legacy going.”
Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Marquette, Seton Hall and DePaul broke away from the old conference in search of stability, which was badly lacking as the football members kept leaving for other leagues.
They feel they’ve found kindred spirits in Butler, Creighton and Xavier, all private schools with fewer than 8,000 students.
Creighton’s president, the Rev. Timothy Lannon, voiced an appropriate sentiment for a conference with only Butler as a non-Catholic member.
“This is a match made in heaven,” he said.
Oh, and these new schools can play basketball a little, too.
Creighton is in its seventh NCAA tournament in 13 years. Xavier was one of only eight schools in the country to make at least seven straight NCAA appearances before missing out this season.
And Butler played in the national championship game in 2010 and ‘11.
The three new additions also expand the Big East’s presence in the Midwest.
Butler and Xavier are leaving the Atlantic 10, while Creighton departs the Missouri Valley Conference.
Butler coach Brad Stevens’ name always comes up when high-profile jobs open. Now he’ll be working in the Big East.
“The idea of being able to go to the very highest level of conference is attractive,” said athletic director Barry Collier, who can speak from experience because he once left the Butler coaching job for a less-successful stint at Nebraska. “In this case, we brought the attractive conference to Brad Stevens.”
The conference has tasked executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to find its first commissioner. Former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe will serve as a consultant to the league as it prepares for its first season.
The Big East contract will be a major piece for Fox’s new sports cable network. Fox Sports 1 is slated to carry more than 100 men’s basketball games next season, plus the conference tournament.
When the Catholic 7 decided to leave in December, they didn’t have a TV deal yet, but they had a sense the market was strong, said Georgetown President John DeGioia. After they started to talk to Fox in January, they knew they could bring in plenty of revenue as they negotiated their exit from the old Big East.
“We truly applaud these universities for taking control of their destiny,” Fox Sports co-President Randy Freer said.
The new Big East schools hope that they’ve escaped the vagaries of unexpected realignment for many years to come — though nothing is ever certain these days in college sports.
“We could not have wished for a better start,” DeGioia said.