- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2012

If sentimentality is not extinct in college athletics, it surely is an endangered species. A wild 36-month (and counting) stretch of conference-hopping saw to that.

And so the decision of Georgetown and the Big East’s other six basketball-centric schools to set out on their own in some form or fashion was not a cause for reflection or sadness or nostalgia.

It was just business, like everything else tugging at an enterprise going through a metamorphosis at its highest levels.

“This is a decision that is not an emotional decision,” basketball coach John Thompson III said Saturday. “So getting to this point had nothing to do with Georgetown, Georgetown’s position as a charter member and not wanting to pull apart because of those ties and that allegiance. I think at this point, based on the collegiate landscape, our leadership believes this is the right thing to do.”

Yet what comes next?

There are countless obstacles facing the group of seven Catholic schools; DePaul, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova joined Georgetown in voting unanimously, according to a joint statement, “to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the tradition on which the Big East was established.”

There was nothing explicitly said about “withdrawing” from the Big East, a setup for some legal haggling to come. After all, Plaintiffs vs. Defendants might now rank among the fiercest (and surely most contested) rivalries in college sports.

Beyond the issues of revenue sharing (how will the exit fees of departing members such as Pittsburgh and Syracuse be divvied up?), branding (who gets the Big East name?) and existing contracts (who gets to play a postseason basketball tournament at New York’s Madison Square Garden?) is the more obvious question of who joins this breakaway faction.

“I think it would be safe to say that at the right time, at the proper time, those things will be discussed and dealt with,” Georgetown athletic director Lee Reed said.

Seven schools is a fine nucleus for a league, and it is refreshing to see universities with generally common philosophies band together rather than coalesce with others with wildly divergent long-term goals. It is, in short, what a conference is supposed to be about.

Realistically, however, it is a group that for purposes of scheduling and logistics eventually will need to grow to 10 (or perhaps beyond). The most likely targets for such an expansion include the likes of Butler, Creighton, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis and Xavier. All but Creighton (a member of the Missouri Valley) reside in the Atlantic 10.

Of course, there are some present and future Big East members such as Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis and Temple with stout basketball programs. Perhaps they would be well-served geographically to head to the Atlantic 10 (or, in the case of Temple, remain there beyond June) for all sports but football and then find or establish an appropriate football-only home.

Regardless, Thompson noted the common philosophical link between the Catholic Seven is basketball, not religion. It is a group that would be wise to steer away from schools with massive pigskin dreams as they move forward.

“Stability in terms of our model of intercollegiate athletics, our broad-based model of intercollegiate athletics that’s basketball-centric, that’s something that’s important to us,” Reed said. “That has defined us for well over a generation. We’re committed to doing that. We’re committed to pursuing that.”

Stability, it seems, is the white whale of a process uncorked almost exactly three years ago when the Big Ten announced it sought to explore the possibility of expansion. The trickle-down of realignment continues unabated, with the Big East (at least in its unwieldy form as a something-teen-school confederation) ripped asunder as a result.

The real Big East, the nine-school behemoth that emerged as a basketball superpower in the 1980s, was diluted long ago. For Georgetown, there was no reason to be weepy over what was; the Hoyas instead chose to channel their own strength and embrace the unknowns to come.

“Georgetown was an outstanding program before the Big East,” Thompson said. “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. So the stability is up on the Hilltop. The stability is within our institution. Whoever wants to be with us can be with us.”