The college sports world reconfigured yet again Saturday - and the local college scene realigned - when Villanova and six other schools officially informed the Big East they will withdraw from the conference.
For Villanova, the move ends a decades-long partnership with the Big East, a conference that had become an unrecognizable amalgamation of schools scattered around the country because of marquee defections and a mass of additions. With new additions from North Carolina to California, few outside the league offices could even say which teams would be in the league in a particular year.
Villanova is staying with some of its longest-term rivals. Meanwhile, the other schools that didn't play Big East football - Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John's - will look to retain some conference assets, including the name, as they look to add schools such as Xavier and Butler to form a new league centered on basketball.
"There is obviously a lot of change taking place in college athletics right now, and we are looking forward to a great future with these partners," Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright said in a statement.
Temple rejoined the league for football this year and will be in the Big East next year for all sports, what's left of the league anyway - an all-sports outfit featuring no schools that have continuously played football in the conference over the last 15 years. There has been so much upheaval that only one remaining school, original member Connecticut, played Big East basketball for all of the last decade.
The Atlantic Ten, which loses Temple after this season, stands to take bigger hits if Xavier, newcomer Butler (which knocked off No. 1 Indiana in men's basketball Saturday), and others leave. Among other possible A-10 targets are Dayton and St. Louis, depending on how many teams end up in the new league with Villanova and the others.
"The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East," commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. "The 13 members of the conference are confident and united regarding our collective future. 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."
Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro said in a statement, "This is truly a unique period in intercollegiate athletics and it has presented us with an incredible opportunity moving forward to build upon our collective prominence."
Expect their departure date to be negotiated. The seven schools are to stay until after the 2014-15 season if they want to leave without penalty. Others schools leaving the Big East have negotiated early departures.
It will be interesting to see how large this new league chooses to be. A sizable Midwest presence is expected. Look for the biggest debate over whether to add Western schools such as Washington state's Gonzaga and California's St. Mary's, which would add more basketball sizzle but offer more logistical obstacles.
Some fans of St. Joseph's and La Salle have wondered whether their schools would be considered for the new hoops league. One source said the schools weren't being discussed.
With the breakaway league earning nicknames such as the CYO and the Big Priest, don't be surprised if several non-Catholic schools are invited. One source said presidents of the Catholic institutions leaving the Big East are sensitive to this subject and are interested in casting a wider net.
"Earlier today, we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established," the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, Villanova's president, said Saturday in a statement posted on the school's website. "This is a group of like-minded schools with excellent academics, great athletic histories and traditions, national caliber basketball programs, and passionate fan bases in major media markets."
Donohue added another aspect of the decision-making process: "This decision is about controlling our future."
Of the seven Big East schools to leave the conference Saturday, four - St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, and Seton Hall - were charter members, and one, Villanova, joined just a year later. DePaul and Marquette were recent additions. Here is a look at what Villanova and the four charter members accomplished in men's basketball since the conference was founded in 1979:
Villanova (entered league in 1980)
National championship in 1985. ... 20-win seasons: 19 of a possible 32. ... NCAA tournament bids: 20, including seven straight under Jay Wright and Rollie Massimino.
St. John's (charter member)
Final Four in 1985. ... 20-win seasons: 15 of a possible 33. ... NCAA tournament bids: 17, but only one in the last 10 years.
Georgetown (charter member)
National champion in 1984, runner-up in 1985. ... 20-win seasons: 23 of a possible 33. ... NCAA tournament bids: 24, including 13 straight years from 1979-80 through 1991-92.
Providence (charter member)
Final Four 1987. ... 20-win seasons: 6 of a possible 33. ... NCAA tournament bids: 7
Seton Hall (charter member)
NCAA runner-up 1989. ... 20-win seasons: 8. ... NCAA tournament bids: 9, including six in seven years from 1987-88 through 1993-94.
- Gary Potosky