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Villanova officials look back on collapse of Big East

Where was the tipping point? When did Villanova know the Big East as now constituted wasn't going to work?

Where was the tipping point? When did Villanova know the Big East as now constituted wasn't going to work?

"It's hard to find one moment in time," Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro said Sunday at a news conference after 'Nova's basketball game at the Pavilion. "I think it was really the totality of what happened over a fairly long period of time. I don't know there was one [move] when the lightbulb went off."

True enough . . . Syracuse's and Pittsburgh's leaving was a huge blow to the league. Locally, Villanova not getting an invite to move up in football factored in. Then West Virginia took off. Temple got the football invite, joining for all sports. Louisville and Rutgers announced they were out.

And, as much as the schools leaving, the schools coming. Central Florida and Houston and Southern Methodist were voted into the Big East together. Tulane was the latest all-sports arrival.

At the news conference, Villanova president Rev. Peter M. Donohue said he believed the tipping point for all seven basketball-centric schools - the ones leaving to form a new league - was the recent departure of Louisville for the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers for the Big Ten.

"There was a concern on all of our part on where the conference was heading," Donohue said, "and where basketball was playing a part in that conference."

The operative phrase at Sunday's news conference was "take charge of our destiny." Villanova's president used it first. Wildcats basketball coach Jay Wright hammered it home.

"Where are we going to go? How are we going to do this?" Wright said of decisions made by these basketball schools. "Not, sit back and let's wait and see what the football schools decide, then we'll see where we're going to go. That's what I look forward to. I think, I know, everybody is all in to be nationally prominent. I think that's going to be key to this league."

Villanova's president, who had put his support fully behind moving up in football, also made it clear that the Big East's decision not to take Villanova for football worked out all right in his mind, given the current instability.

"It's been a very changing environment for football," Donohue said. "I'm very pleased where Villanova is situated right now."

He was asked directly about whether the school still would consider moving up to the FBS level, the top division.

"We are very committed to where we are in football right now," Donohue said.

So Villanova and Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John's are together, now looking for a leader, or at least a transitional figure. (The name of former commissioner Michael Tranghese was floated Sunday. It's a good name.) It appears that every school that doesn't play FBS football may want to join up, so the new league won't have trouble stocking up.

On the way out, there will be a lot of negotiations, over money and even the Big East name.

"It is important," Donohue said of that name and brand, "and it will be part of all the negotiations going forward in the next couple of months."

It also is a valid question whether the name will represent a gloried past as this new venture needs to move forward. It will be interesting to see who sees the name as worth fighting for. That goes for the Big East football schools, since there literally is no shared Big East football tradition.

If both sides decide the name isn't worth fighting for, or paying for, then this weekend will go down as the end point of the Big East.

"It's sad," Wright said, reciting players and rivalries from days gone by. "It really is sad. In the same sense, though, I used to like ACC basketball . . . but that's not the same. The Big Ten's not the same. Nothing is the same. The only thing in life that's definite is change."

Wright had been outspoken about the need to move up in Big East football, to stay with the big boys so 'Nova could keep competing nationally in basketball. He hasn't seen any changes in recruiting interest through all the upheaval, he said.

"Going forward, we'll see," Wright said, noting that these schools will offer something unique that will be sold to recruits.

The Big East, it turns out, has been slowly dying since Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College left a decade back for the ACC. The illness wasn't always apparent since the Big East continued to dominate in basketball, its showcase sport. But most realignment moves have been chasing football dollars, or the fear of being left behind in the money chase.

"It seemed very stable - I've been in the office for seven years," Donohue said of the Big East. "Things started happening, for me at least, with the departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh. That was the beginning. . . . Things started changing or unraveling in different ways."