Calling it "A historic day in DePaul's athletic history," DePaul University athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto confirmed in a Friday press conference what Big East commissioner Mike Aresco had announced earlier in the day: the so-called 'Catholic Seven' is officially splitting off to form their own conference. The new arrangement will become effective on July 1, 2013.
"July 1 is going to be the opportunity that the 'basketball group of seven' will have to begin anew as a new conference," said Ponsetto.
While Ponsetto cited "the opportunity to be a league with like-minded institutions" as a reason DePaul was compelled to join the new conference with Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova, she stated her preference for another name for the group rather than the 'Catholic Seven'.
"We look at ourselves as 'The Basketball Seven,'" said Ponsetto.
That emphasis on basketball has DePaul men's basketball head coach Oliver Purnell feeling optimistic about the heights the new conference can reach.
"The move ensures the possibility that we'll have the best basketball league in the country," Purnell said. "Most decisions will be driven by what's in the best interest of the institution, as well as the basketball programs.
"I was not really pleased after coming to DePaul in all this conference upheaval, but I felt all along after that DePaul would end up in a good place."
Ponsetto echoed Purnell's confidence, citing the strength of traditional rivalries between the teams.
"I really believe the interest level in this conference is going to be off the charts," Ponsetto said, who expressed confidence that the new conference affiliation would provide more momentum for DePaul's intentions to relocate their home stadium to Chicago.
There's a lot that still needs to be determined before tickets start being printed, and with the ink still wet on the agreement for the conference split, many of the details are not ready to be discussed. Ponsetto cited a confidentiality clause in the split agreement that prevented her from discussing the terms of the agreement, as well as whether the new conference is retaining the 'Big East' name or maintaining an agreement with Madison Square Garden to host their season-ending tournament.
Ponsetto instead noted that a new television contract will need to be secured, since the Big East's current deal for basketball coverage was set to expire at the end of this season anyway. The new conference will also need to initiate the process for securing an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for their conference tournament champion.
Meanwhile, there's no firm number on how many teams the new conference will have, since other schools are still being considered.
"There are several institutions out there that have expressed very strong interest," said Ponsetto. "It could be in the range of 10, it could be 12. I know we have seven. I know we have enough right now."