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Unified basketball schools continue to plot future

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Unified basketball schools continue to plot future

VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Villanova's Big East banner that hangs in the rafters already has a white patch stitched over West Virginia.

The Wildcats can now start putting Xs over most of the rest of the conference schools, as well.

The Big East - a proud league built on basketball moments like the 1985 Wildcats stunning conference rival Georgetown in the national championship game - will soon become extinct, even if the name lives on in some unrecognizable form.

On Saturday, Villanova, Georgetown, St. John's, DePaul, Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence all decided to officially separate from the conference many of them helped to build, so they can construct a league focused on basketball in this ever-changing landscape of college athletics.

The breakaway from the Big East was only the first step. It will be weeks and months of uncertainty, and possibly lawsuits, before the final structure over this transition period falls into place.

The seven schools must decide who will join them in the new hoops-heavy conference, when they want to depart, where they'll play a conference tournament, and whether they will attempt to keep the Big East name. Plus, the league will need a commissioner.

There is no true timetable for any of those decisions. Like so many of these reshaped conferences that stretch from coast to coast, this new league won't be confined to eastern teams. Xavier, Butler, Dayton, Creighton, and Gonzaga, way out in Spokane, Wash., also don't play major college football and would be natural fits to align with these Catholic schools. The league also will consider non-denominational schools, as well.

``They don't necessarily have to be Catholic, but it could happen,'' Patrick Lyons, Seton Hall's athletic director, said. ``We're not restricting it. We also have to consider our football-playing Big East partners and what they plan to do. But we're extremely excited about being able to shape our future.''

The seven departing schools have won three men's basketball national championships with 18 Final Four appearances. Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence helped form the Big East, which started playing basketball in 1979. Villanova joined in 1980, and Marquette and DePaul in 2005. The Big East began playing football in 1991.

``I just like the fact that our schools are being proactive and moving in a direction that I think will be just great,'' DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. ``I've always said DePaul will be fine because we'll be in a terrific basketball league and nothing's transpired in the last week or so that's changed my mind.''

For most of the schools, leaving is bittersweet, but it is a move necessitated by earlier defections like Syracuse (ACC), Pittsburgh (ACC) and West Virginia (Big 12), and the heavy emphasis on the cash-cow football programs.

``I think the tipping point in the mind of all seven of us was the most recent departure of Louisville and Rutgers,'' said Villanova's president, the Rev. Peter M. Donohue. ``There was a concern on all of our parts about where the conference was heading and where basketball was playing a part in the conference.''

Big East bylaws require departing members give the conference 27 months' notice, but the league has negotiated early departures with Orange, Panthers and Mountaineers over the past year. Those schools all had to pay exit fees. Big East rules do allow schools to leave as a group without being obligated to pay exit fees.

The seven schools could play one more year in the Big East or figure out a way to get started on their league a season early. No one wants to deal with the uncertainty and nastiness that can lead from a split for any more time than necessary.

The breakup, however, is almost guaranteed to get messy. The Big East name, after all, will be up for grabs in negotiations.

``The association has served us well, for sure,'' Villanova Athletic Director Vince Nicastro said. ``It's been part of the fabric of our programs. But we're looking forward.''

Villanova coach Jay Wright, a native of the area, and raised on the Big East, said the time was right for a change.

``All of us basketball schools (are now) able to get together and say, `OK, where are we going to go? How are we going to do this?''' he said. ``Not sit back and say, `Let's wait and see what the football schools decide, then let's see where we're going to go.'''

The latest hit to the Big East leaves Connecticut, also a founding member, Cincinnati, Temple and South Florida - the four current members with FBS football programs - as the only schools currently in the Big East that are scheduled to be there beyond the 2013-14 school year.

The Big East is still lined up to have a 12-team football conference next season with six new members, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only. Rutgers and Louisville, which both announced intentions to leave the Big East last month for the Big Ten and the ACC, respectively, are scheduled to compete in the conference next year.

Notre Dame, which is moving to the ACC, also is expected to continue competing in the Big East next season in all sports but football and hockey. Those two sports also won't compete in the ACC when the Fighting Irish land there.

Also joining the Big East next season are Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU for all sports.

Villanova had toyed for years with moving its football program up from the FCS level. Obviously, those plans are finished.

``I'm pleased we didn't make that decision,'' Donohue said.

School officials haven't said much publicly because there are still so many pieces that need to come together. Will it be a 10 or 12-team league? What will the television deal look like? Will a conference tournament live on at Madison Square Garden?

``The commercial enterprise around this is going to be really important to us,'' Nicastro said. ``Make no mistake about that, we're in that game. We're going to be in the television business in a big way.''

Nicastro said the seven schools have only worked together in making the move but are starting to look outside for new leadership. The next step is simply getting organized in the transition plan.

About the only part of the defection the seven schools know for sure is that they're all unified as they journey onward.

``Right now, we're focused on moving forward together,'' Lyons said. ``All other decisions still have to be made, but we're going to stick together.''

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Follow Dan Gelston at www.twitter.com/APGelston

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.