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DePaul among 7 Catholic schools set for Big East exodus

DePaul is among seven Catholic schools Big East set break away from conference form its own league.  I Scott

DePaul is among seven Catholic schools in the Big East set to break away from the conference and form its own league. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 13, 2012 9:15PM

The upheaval in conference alignments could lead DePaul and other basketball-only Big East schools to leave the conference soon to form a new league.

That league might retain rights to the conference name and eventually be made up of 10 schools, including the seven Big East Catholic basketball members and potentially other Catholic schools such as Dayton and Xavier, which are in the Atlantic 10.

DePaul spokesman Greg Greenwell said Wednesday the school had no official comment, but it’s known that DePaul was among seven Catholic conference members who met Sunday with Big East officials in New York. The seven expressed concern about their future in the conference, which has seen some of its better basketball programs — including Syracuse, West Virginia, Notre Dame and, most recently, Louisville — leave the league while football-oriented schools are brought in.

No decision was made after the meeting, but sources indicate a vote by the university presidents to separate might be imminent.

Their concerns stem from the rapidly changing conference scene being driven by football interests, leaving basketball-only programs such as DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Providence at the mercy of that sport.

‘‘Part of this is just everybody is uneasy with all these questions that everybody’s got in their own minds,’’ Marquette athletic director Larry Williams told ‘‘There was something really cool about the Big East. You could rely on it to get six or eight or nine bids [to the NCAA tournament] in a year. It was home. Now that home has been sort of changed, and somebody put new furniture in, and, boy, do we still fit here is what everyone is sort of thinking about.’’

DePaul and Marquette were among the five former Conference USA schools that joined the Big East in 2005. But the conference has changed dramatically in the last year with more than a half-dozen programs exiting while Memphis, San Diego State, Boise State, Temple, SMU, Houston, East Carolina, Central Florida, Navy and Tulane have been added.

All but Tulane, Memphis, Houston, SMU and Central Florida will be football-only members.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse will exit the league next season, and Connecticut and Cincinnati are pushing hard to leave the conference and join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Notre Dame also is leaving to join the ACC, though it has not said when it will depart.

There’s the possibility the Fighting Irish might opt to remain aligned with the dissenting Big East Catholic members because Notre Dame’s conference affiliation is only for its non-football sports. Its football program remains independent.

Provisions in the contract between the former Conference USA members and the Big East would allow the schools to exit without paying a penalty and without losing certain ‘‘assets,’’ which could include the conference name.

Schools are required to give 27 months notification of leaving, but that might be negotiable.

There could be an urgency to making a decision soon because the conference’s national TV contract for basketball expires next year. Negotiations for a new deal already have begun, but the uncertainty of the conference’s future could affect those talks.

The conference’s Catholic basketball members are DePaul, Marquette, Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall and Providence.

DePaul has a long history of playing most of those schools even before its conference affiliation started in 1992 in the Great Midwest. DePaul’s historic rivalries with Notre Dame and Dayton also would be precedent for aligning in a new league with those programs.

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