The divorce papers will be signed soon - early next week is the best educated guess. The seven Big East schools that don't play football in the Football Bowl Subdivision, including Villanova, have decided to turn out the lights on the rickety shotgun marriage that defined the current Big East.

There are still unresolved issues holding up an announcement of a split, but "it is going to happen, no doubt about it," said one Big East source.

On a conference call Thursday among presidents of the seven schools and commissioner Mike Aresco, the general gist of the call was, "This is the direction we're looking to go," a conference source said.

This end was anticipated for years. In November 2003, in adding schools to replace Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, the conference worked on language to be used in case football and non-football schools could not coexist. A pre-nup of sorts.

"There was a lot of doubt about whether it could work," said a Big East source who does not work on a campus but has been closely involved in the conference's athletic issues for years. "The essence of what took place, they agreed on a five-year window going forward. After that, there would be automatic annual renewals. In this sub-agreement, they created three separate entities with their own rights."

One entity was the group that played football. Another was the Big East schools that did not: Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, DePaul, and Marquette. (The third entity - and everyone should enjoy this - was Notre Dame, which didn't play football in the conference but obviously had options and interests separate from the others.)

Any of those entities could vote to leave as a group without penalty, the Big East source said.

For the non-football schools, a vote to leave did not have to be unanimous, the source said. "If six out of seven want to go, all seven have to go," the source said.

According to reports, the seven schools are united on the decision to leave. However, leaving isn't necessarily the right word. Look for Villanova and Georgetown and the rest to stake a claim to the Big East name because of the non-football schools' current majority status.

Obviously, attorneys and accountants will get plenty of work in the months ahead. The sub-agreement apparently called for the conference "to equitably distribute the [financial] assets," the source with knowledge of the sub-agreement said. Any distribution of assets is crucial, involving millions in NCAA basketball tournament revenue and exit fees from schools that already left.

This wasn't a knee-jerk decision by the basketball-centric schools, the Catholic Seven. According to the same Big East source, Villanova and Marquette combined to hire an outside consultant to look at all the issues involved. This included studying potential television revenue for various models.

There apparently is no agreement yet on how many schools would be in the new basketball conference, which would include all other sports except football. The outlook on television revenue apparently is positive, roughly equal to what the schools would receive if they stayed with the football schools in the Big East.

The basketball-centric schools obviously weren't counting on Connecticut and Cincinnati sticking around too long. If those schools finally get invitations from one of the five more powerful conferences, then newcomers Temple and Memphis would be the top remaining basketball schools among the football-playing Big East members.

In leaving Temple and Memphis behind, the thinking apparently is that enticing Xavier, Dayton, and Butler, and maybe others, would make up for losing the Owls and Memphis. Advantages include not having to play so many schools that aren't natural rivals, and not being at the mercy of football schools.

In the aftermath, there will be many autopsies. One big question: Why didn't anyone from the Big East seriously talk (until lately) about adding Xavier and Dayton? Other than taking in Temple and Memphis, decisions were almost fully football decisions, often steered by schools that have since bolted the conference. Even the most recent decision that included taking in Tulane for all sports was a head-scratcher.

In the midst of hiring a new football coach, Temple now faces a less-certain future, wondering if Boise State and San Diego State will continue to pledge allegiance to the Big Whatever.

The bad news for the Owls, after all the departures this year, is that the divorce makes sense for Villanova. It was the only card the Main Liners had left to play.