Butler University, Creighton University and Xavier University joined the new Big East Conference, filling out a 10-school league that also completed a 12-year television package to air games on Fox Sports’ emerging network.
The conference, which includes the seven Catholic schools from the old Big East, also agreed to play its season-ending men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden for the next three years, the group said at a news conference in New York to announce the broadcast deal with the News Corp. unit.
The new league begins play next season.
“We never intended to be an all-Catholic conference,” said Brian Shanley, president at Providence College. “We don’t take Butler because they’re the token non-Catholic school, but because they’re ferocious on the basketball court. And there’s no truth to the rumor that we took two Jesuit schools because there’s a Jesuit pope.”
Shanley also said the conference would consider adding two more schools after next year.
“Whether and how we get to 12 is negotiable between us and our partners,” he said. “We’ve discussed, actively, a number of schools that are really strong potential partners for us and we also believe that the landscape in college sports has not stopped morphing.”
The conference might move its headquarters or commissioner’s office to New York, the No. 1 U.S. media market, from Providence, Rhode Island, as part of the restructuring, Shanley said.
“We have to have a presence in New York,” he said.
Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. was picked to lead the search for a conference commissioner, while former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe was hired as a consultant.
Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and DePaul reached an exit agreement with the Big East on March 8, taking the conference name and rights to play at the Garden in Midtown Manhattan while leaving the league’s football schools with money collected from recent exit and entry fees.
Those schools -- Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist, Temple, Tulane and Central Florida -- have yet to pick a name for their conference, which probably also will include Navy in 2015.
“We didn’t want to leave the Big East but we found ourselves in a position where the instability was just so acute,” said John DeGioia, Georgetown’s president. “These last few years have demonstrated just how difficult it is for our football partners to be able to hold together the framework that enables them to compete at the highest possible levels.”
Butler, the sixth seed in the East region for the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, and Xavier, which wasn’t selected for the national championship bracket, are leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference. Creighton, the seventh seed in the Midwest, is moving from the Missouri Valley Conference. Both Xavier, of Cincinnati, and Creighton, based in Omaha, Nebraska, are Jesuit schools.
Butler, the Indianapolis school that was runner-up in NCAA tournaments in 2010 and 2011, meets Bucknell tomorrow at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, in the first full round of the NCAA men’s tournament, while Creighton plays Cincinnati at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia the following day.
Of the 10 schools in the conference, only Creighton and Xavier have never made the Final Four.
The former Big East schools reached an agreement with Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN to continue their television relationship of more than 30 years. The contract gives the sports network exclusive worldwide distribution rights across all media and will continue ESPN’s coverage of the conference’s football, basketball and more sports through 2019-20.