Ron Thompson on Georgetown leaving the Big East
The Hoyas started their basketball day as a member of the Big East, tipping off against Western Carolina at high noon. Two hours later, Georgetown had dispatched the Catamounts in decisive fashion - and communicated that the affiliation with a conference it helped found in 1979 was no more.
Simultaneous to the final buzzer sounding on the Hoyas latest victory, the seven basketball-only programs of the Big East conference - founding members Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall plus Villanova, DePaul and Marquette - issued a statement regarding their future, one that had been the talk of the collegiate athletic world throughout the week.
The how and when remains unclear even after Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed and basketball coach John Thompson III addressed the news with the media postgame. What's more apparent is the long-rumored salvo from the basketball-centric institutions takes them toward a hardwood path and away from its gridiron brethren.
The seven school Presidents voted unanimously on the departure during a conference call early Saturday afternoon before issuing a release - via Georgetown's communications department - that stated a desire to "pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established. Under the current context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward."
Including these seven, 17 schools have or will soon depart from the Big East since 2004. Starting in 2013-13, the incoming replacement programs including remote outposts in San Diego, Boise, Houston and Dallas would form a coast-to-coast membership hodgepodge that takes the league even further away from its I-95 hoops roots.
The statement continued, "We have been honored to be associated with the outstanding group of institutions that have made up the Big East. While we pursue this opportunity for our institutions, we believe the efforts of the past two years have established the foundation for an enduring national football conference."
Asked for his reaction, Reed stated, "I think after a lot of consideration, keeping a careful eye on the national landscape as it relates to conference realignment, what our history has been, I think we were wanting to get to a place where there was a focus on where we are and what we are philosophically in terms of our model of intercollegiate athletics."
During the press conference both Reed and Thompson touched on the aforementioned model and the ties that bind the departing schools, a group defined in some circles by its Catholic beliefs.
“ I’m glad to hear some of you guys using just basketball. The common philosophical link is not religion, it’s basketball," Thompson said.
"We believe this is the right thing to do. And so I’m excited about where we’re going to go.
Shortly thereafter, the Big East conference issued its own statement from Commissioner Michael Aresco acknowledging the departures while briefly touching on its own now unsteady outlook.
"The 13 members of the Conference are confident and united regarding our collective future," Aresco said. "We have a strong Conference with respected national universities, and are working together to forge the future. We have a variety of options, and are looking forward with great partnership, collegiality and optimism.”
The options going forward for both sides are intriguing and dizzying. According to a ESPN.com report, Big East spokesperson John Paquette said the seven schools will leave on June 30, 2015, which is in accordance with conference bylaws stating departing members must give 27 months notice. Early departures have been negotiated with other schools, including West Virginia.
This group of seven could seek a one-size fits all departure date, but such a plan could become financially untenable considering the millions of dollars at stake from NCAA Tournament money to exit fees amassed from the schools that have already made a move.
Asked about a potential timetable, Reed said, "I don't have a best sense that I'm willing to share now." Later he added, "It’s probably the 3rd inning of a 9 inning game so there is a lot of work left to be done."
Should the seven wait out the situation, one wonders how many of the remaining schools will remain, each perhaps trying to grab a foothold with another football conference. Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida, the current Big East with football programs have long been rumored to be aggressively pursuing membership in one of the nation's preeminent football conferences.
Reed would not discuss most specifics regarding any future plans, though he confirmed the new conference plan would house all non-football sports. Georgetown currently has 29 athletic programs. The football team is and will remain in the Patriot League.
Reed also pushed back slightly when asked if the statement from his side indicated a willingness to leave the much coveted Big East brand name behind.
"I think what the statement basically says is within the structure of the Big East conference we have the opportunity as a group to exercise a right to in a orderly fashion separate from the conference."
National conferences vary in size and the seven will certainly add to its ranks, though Reed said, "there’s no target number." Atlantic 10 schools Xavier, Butler and Dayton are among the potential rumored targets, a list that includes Gonzaga, St. Mary's and Creighton. One report has Creighton leaving the Missouri Valley conference for this new venture as soon as this weekend.
Georgetown has now made its move, away from the league it helped define, most notably with a National Championship in 1984 and being one of three conference teams in the 1985 Final Four under coach John Thompson Jr. Reed acknowledged the decision was indeed part financial, part philosophical. Regardless of the thinking, the current coaching Thompson doesn't believe the move takes the program out of the winning business.
"Georgetown was an outstanding program before the Big East, we've been an outstanding program during our time in the Big East, and we're going to be an outstanding program with whatever tomorrow holds," John Thompson III said. "The stability is up on the Hilltop, the stability is within our institution, and whoever wants to be with us can be with us."