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Georgetown, six other schools, seek future away from remnants of Big East

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Georgetown took a step toward its future Saturday.

Where exactly it will be isn’t entirely defined. Who it is with partially is.

And let there be no question: Whatever is to come, basketball will be the primary nexus of whatever association the Hoyas eventually become a part of – much the same as the origins of the Big East.

Georgetown, along the six non-major football schools in the Big East, announced Saturday in a statement they decided to “[pursue] a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward.”

DePaul, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova joined the Hoyas in seeking a new venture, one that may or may not still continue with the Big East name. All seven are Catholic schools, each of which has reached the Final Four at least once since 1979.

“The common philosophical link is not religion,” coach John Thompson III said. “It’s basketball. So we talk about a basketball-centric conference. I have felt comfortable about that. Georgetown has never changed in that regard, regardless of who we’re in conference with or who we’ve been in a conference with or who we will be in a conference with, that’s something that’s important.”

While myriad issues remain, Georgetown cast its lot with schools with far more common aims than the grab-bag of schools the Big East has come to be in recent years.

Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia have all departed the conference in the last decade. Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse are soon to leave. In their stead, the Big East added the likes of Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Tulane as all-sports members.

If it sounds like the league evolved via attrition into Conference USA-plus, well, that’s exactly what happened. And rather permit the chase for football dollars, however fruitless that will likely be for the remnants of the league, the Hoyas will be part of a group with similar aims moving forward.

“Our priorities are making sure our student-athletes are able to compete at the highest levels, providing them with the exposure and the platform they need to do that and stability, defined as Georgetown University having a basketball-centric, 29-sport, broad-based athletic program,” athletic director Lee Reed said. “That’s where we start and finish all of our conversations.”

Reed said the seven-school grouping plans to compete against each other in all sports. Georgetown does not field a major-college football program, though it does have a team that will continue to participate as a member of the Patriot League.

The crux of future conversations, beyond the legal finagling all-too-common in the collegiate sports landscape the Big East’s present and future members are certain to engage in, will be who joins the seven departing schools.

If “basketball-centric” is a key element – and it certainly is – the likes of Butler, Creighton, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, Virginia Commonwealth and Xavier would prove logical candidates. Of those schools, all but Creighton is a member of the Atlantic 10; the Bluejays are long-time members of the Missouri Valley Conference.

An intriguing possibility is adopting a 10-school format with a double round robin, which is not far from the original vision of Big East founder Dave Gavitt. The league rose in stature in the 1980s as a nine-team league with most of its schools in major metropolitan cities on the East Coast.

There are no shortage of issues to settle, namely the rights to the Big East name, its contract with Madison Square Garden to host the conference basketball tournament each March and what sort of TV deal a new grouping of teams could snag without the benefit of bundling it with football.

“We feel really good with where we are and the process we took to get to this point and a lot of work is left to be done,” Reed said. “We’ve talked about it and it’s probably the third inning of a nine-inning game. There’s a lot of work left to be done.”

The Hoyas, though, seized a bit of control along with the rest of the non-football schools on a day they handled Western Carolina 81-68 to improve to 9-1 on the season.

What Thompson wouldn’t agree with is the sense Georgetown now enjoys added stability. In his mind, the Hoyas already had it, in keeping with a phrase he repeated a few times Saturday: “We’re Georgetown.”

“Georgetown was an outstanding before the Big East. We’ve been an outstanding program during our time in the Big East. And we’re going to be an outstanding program with whatever tomorrow holds,” Thompson said. “So the stability is up on the Hilltop. The stability is within our institution. Whoever wants to be with us can be with us.”

Patrick Stevens

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