The seven non-BCS football schools made their anticipated getaway from the Big East Conference on Saturday, their presidents voting unanimously to leave and form their own basketball-oriented conference.
The exit of Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul leaves UConn behind to play in a league spread out coast to coast, without traditional rivals and not much potential for forming new ones.
"The tragedy that took place in Newtown on Friday should be the focus of the thoughts of the people in Connecticut and all Husky fans this weekend," UConn President Susan Herbst said in statement. "The University of Connecticut believes that the Big East Conference will continue to be a strong and exciting conference that is comprised of highly-regarded national universities. … We ask our fans to steer all passion and concern to Newtown, and we will honor those lost when we gather together as a university community for events this upcoming week."
As hinted by the statement, UConn officials were privately angered by the decision of the seven presidents to conduct this business on Saturday, just a day after the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. UConn will honor the victims' memories at sporting events this week, including the men's basketball game against Maryland Eastern Shore on Monday night, and is considering ways to honor them throughout the rest of the season.
In the meantime, the Big East Conference, which was formed in 1979 around a core including several of the schools that left it on Saturday, is due to break up in 2015, if not sooner. The schools are bound to give 27 months' notice before leaving, which would place it at the start of the 2015-16 academic year, but precedent indicates that negotiations will bring those departures sooner.
"The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the Big East," commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. "The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the Big East. The 13 members of the conference are confident and united regarding our collective future."
To be decided is who will retain the Big East brand name, the departing schools or the ones left behind and entering the league in the next couple of years. And tens of millions of current league funds, including exit fees paid or soon to be paid by the schools who have already departed, such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville, must be divided up.
As this is all sorted out, the Big East will have a revolving door over the next several seasons. Remaining in the league with UConn, the last founding member, are Cincinnati, South Florida and Temple.
The Big East, as currently constituted, will have a 12-team football conference next season with six new members joining, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only. Rutgers and Louisville, which both announced intentions to leave the Big East, are still expected to compete in the conference next year.
Notre Dame, which is moving to the ACC, is also expected to be in the league next season in all sports but football and hockey. Joining the Big East next season for all sports are Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU, with Boise State and San Diego State for football only. Navy is to join for football in 2015.
Tulane was invited to join in all sports after Rutgers left, a move that apparently pushed the seven basketball-driven schools to make this move.
In other words, even the most avid UConn fans will be hard-pressed to remember and name their league opponents over the next few years, unless UConn is able to gain an invitation to one of the growing major conferences such as the ACC or Big Ten.
The league to be formed by the seven schools that departed Saturday figures to look for more basketball schools, perhaps from the Atlantic 10 Conference.
"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," read a statement issued by the seven departing school presidents. "Under the context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward."