BY JASON GUERETTE
For the Seton Hall Pirates, the 2012-13 basketball season has been one of transition. Most notably, the transition has been evident in the on-court product, with a host of newcomers taking the place of mainstays Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore.
On Sunday, the Pirates continued to work that part out, getting 20 or more points from three different players in defeating North Carolina A&T, 77-66, and continuing to march towards their conference slate of games.
But now the transitioning will start to occur off the court as well.
On Saturday afternoon, the presidents of the seven remaining Big East schools without Football Bowl Subdivision programs - Georgetown, St. John’s, Marquette, Providence, Villanova and Seton Hall - announced their intentions to break away from the Big East, the latest domino to fall in the conference realignment circus that has besieged college sports in the last couple of years.
Head coach Kevin Willard accentuated the positive when talking about the move after the game.
“I think everyone here is really excited about what’s going on for Seton Hall,” Willard said. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us. It’s going to be a re-brand of our basketball (team), and as a basketball coach, I’m extremely excited that something was done for basketball.”
The schools, which have been dubbed the “Catholic Seven” by many pundits, are departing to “pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established,” according to their joint statement.
“Under the current 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.”
The current Pirates, while they are aware of the move, have a different reaction than their head coach.
“I’m not gonna get too deep into that,” junior swingman Fuquan Edwin, who scored 26 points to lead all scorers in the game, remarked. “(The Big East) was a tough conference. But (it’s) falling apart, you know. There isn’t much I can do about it.”
“I’ve heard a couple things,” said sophomore guard Aaron Cosby, who added a career-high 22 points. “I do know (the move) is a few years away, so I’m just trying to focus on the ‘now.’”
Sophomore forward Brandon Mobley, who scored a career-high 23 points to go along with 13 rebounds, echoed his classmate.
“That’s the way it’s going nowadays, everybody’s switching (conferences),” Mobley said. “We know we’re in the Big East this year, though, so that’s all we can focus on. I know that while I’m here, we’ll still be in the Big East.”
With the historic move by the “Catholic Seven,” four of which (including Seton Hall) are founding members of the Big East, a couple of scenarios arise as far as the athletic future of the schools is concerned.
First, the schools could opt to break away from the Big East and form their own conference, likely continuing to spin the realignment carousel by bringing in other like-minded, basketball-centric institutions.
In that case, because the group constitutes at least seven schools that have been playing together for at least five years (Marquette and DePaul joined the Big East in 2005), they would be able to keep their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, per NCAA rules.
The other, more radical possibility would be to dissolve the Big East, dividing the remaining money in the conference’s coffers among the 10 remaining member schools.
That scenario is being called unlikely at best, however, due to reports that, while the “Catholic Seven” constitute the necessary 2/3 majority needed to dissolve, the process would require at least two of the three remaining voting schools with FBS football- Cincinnati, South Florida and UConn- to also cast their vote in favor of dissolution.
Temple, which is presently a football-only member but will be a full member of the Big East next year, would be ineligible to vote in such a case.
Regardless, because of Big East bylaws requiring members to provide 27 months notice before leaving, the seven schools would officially depart on June 30, 2015.
Also because of Big East bylaws, the schools would not have to pay an exit fee, since they are leaving as a group.
Those facts are not set in stone, however. The Big East has negotiated terms to exit the league early with other departing schools, most notably West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, in the past year.
As for the future of the “Catholic Seven,” there has been rampant speculation on who the schools would invite to join them in a potential new conference. Among the popular candidates being mentioned are Xavier, Dayton, Creighton and Butler, which upset #1 Indiana yesterday.
Another bone of contention going forward will be which group - the departing schools or the remaining schools - gets to retain the “Big East” name, and therefore its brand recognition, something that isn’t lost on Seton Hall or its players.
“The Big East name is definitely part of what gets guys to come (to the Big East), along with the school,” Mobley said.
For now, though, Seton Hall and its compatriots have made it clear that this is the best choice for them, and that they will no longer allow a conference realignment movement driven largely by football dictate their basketball future.