More than 30 years ago, Georgetown, Villanova and a group of other universities with Roman Catholic heritages and high-profile basketball programs reshaped the college sports landscape by banding together to form the Big East Conference, challenging the domination of the traditional powers like the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, and Pacific-10 Conferences. Saturday, having seen their influence erode as the Big East focused on building its football relevance, seven basketball-playing Catholic universities announced that they would head out on their own, probably forming a new league that could end up bearing the Big East name.
The leaders of the universities (DePaul, Marquette, Providence, St. John's and Seton Hall, in addition to Georgetown and Villanova) had watched with dismay in the middle of the last decade as the Big East expanded far beyond its Northeast base to add institutions (like the University of Miami and Virginia Tech) known far more for their football prowess than their basketball success. But when the latest round of football-driven conference realignment cranked up two years ago, other leagues picked away at Big East powers such as Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh, leaving the Big East significantly vulnerable even as it added football-playing members from as far away as Louisiana and Idaho.
The departure of Georgetown and the others will further diminish the Big East's historical relevance as a basketball league, and could result in the conference needing a new name, as the departing Big East members -- whose new league could include institutions such as Butler and Xavier Universities, according to news reports -- could stake a claim to the Big East name.