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Statements on Conference Alignment

Dec. 15, 2012

Statement from the presidents of the seven basketball member schools of the Big East 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.  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.
 
We are grateful to our Commissioner, Michael Aresco, for his exceptional leadership of the Big East Conference.  We have been honored to be associated with the outstanding group of institutions that have made up the Big East.  While we pursue this opportunity for our institutions, we believe the efforts of the past two years have established the foundation for an enduring national football conference.
 
We look forward to building this new foundation with an emphasis on elite competition and a commitment to the development of our students engaged in intercollegiate athletics.  That is where we will now spend our energy as we move forward.  

Statement from DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
DePaul University has a proud basketball tradition, and this weekend's announcement will further enhance that tradition. We anticipate this move will foster a bright future not only for DePaul's intercollegiate athletics program, but for the other institutions as well.

We always have enjoyed great athletic competitions with the schools in the Big East Conference and some of the rivalries go back to our time as an independent under Coach Ray Meyer. Our students, fans and supporters will benefit greatly in positioning ourselves with the other six institutions who have a common vision of success and of competing at the highest level.

Statement from Jean Lenti Ponsetto, DePaul University, Director of Athletics
DePaul University in its long and storied basketball tradition has shared some of its most special memories with the six other Big East basketball centric institutions dating back to Coach Ray Meyer in the 50's.

And now this next chapter sees us forging a new path filled with an institutional commitment toward athletic excellence in all sports, supported by over 120,000 alumni in the world's greatest city and third largest media market, Chicago.

Coaches Purnell and Bruno along with their 2012-13 basketball teams continue to bring great distinction academically and athletically to DePaul in our quest for excellence.  We look forward to carrying our collective energy forward as we look to build a new with Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova.

At the same time, we are grateful for the many friendships and rivalries we enjoyed with new and old Big East members and wish all well as they continue forward.


Comments from athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto following men's basketball game against Northern Illinois on Dec. 16
I think everyone knows by now that seven of the basketball school presidents made an announcement yesterday that they voted unanimously to forge a new path for the basketball-only institutions. DePaul was obviously part of that decision. Father Dennis (Holtschneider) participated by phone as did all the Presidents—but he is in China right now—so that is why he is not here to join us today but otherwise I know he would have liked to have been here.

DePaul is excited about this new path ahead. For us to be involved in a conference that is basketball-centric has always been the primary focus of our athletic program. We’ve really enjoyed our time with the BIG EAST and we have had great friendships and relationships and some really good rivalries with both the old members of the BIG EAST and some of the new ones that are coming into the conference. I think it became very apparent that this was a good time for us to take stock and look at what all the options were. I think that our Presidents felt—and that our athletic directors agreed—that this was time in our history of each of our individual programs and collectively as a group that we could create something pretty special. That is the path that we are on at this point in time.

There isn’t any information to report about the BIG EAST name, the Madison Square Garden agreement, potential members—I know that everyone has questions about all of those things. For the time being, all of those are in the weeks and months ahead. Certainly, I think one of the things that the presidents are very much intentional about is the orderly separation or the orderly transition from the conference as it is currently constructed for the basketball schools and certainly wishing all the best to the continuing schools on the football side who will continue as a football conference.

On the Catholic component
It would be presumptuous for me to talk about any one institution individually so I would prefer not to do that but I will say that there isn’t any motivation on the part of the Presidents going forward that this would remain an all-Catholic conference. The priority is that this will be a basketball-centric conference so I think that we will continue to look at basketball institutions that are like-minded, that play basketball at the highest level, Catholic or non-Catholic.

From my perspective—and I think everything that I’ve heard in the conversations and discussions with my own President and the other Presidents—I don’t think they’re trying to create an all-Catholic league. I think they are trying to create a league that has outstanding basketball and certainly provides a good home for all of our other sports as well. The BIG EAST from the basketball schools has had a lot of success in a variety of other sports as well. We are talking about athletic programs that have made substantial commitments to intercollegiate athletics and substantial commitments to excellence in intercollegiate athletics. I think that is why we feel this is a good time because we can create something really special. Not only will we have outstanding men’s and women’s basketball but I think we’ll be really good in soccer and in volleyball, in softball, tennis, track and golf and all of the other sports that we sponsor.

On being a member of the BIG EAST
I think it is always a sad time when you leave friends and colleagues that you have spent time with. For me, I have been in this business for over 30 years now, and so a lot of the folks that were athletic directors and certainly, senior women administrators and coaches, you really do create a connection with people. I think it is a time of sadness, any time you transition away from good friends that you are used to being in the trenches with in the conference. Some of those have been friendships we would have renewed with some of the Conference USA schools. At the same time, I am really excited to be going on with the other six institutions that we decided to make this move with because we have had great relationships and great friendships and outstanding rivalries. If you look at our basketball history and tradition at DePaul, back to Coach Ray’s years, we have been playing Georgetown and St. John’s and Villanova and Providence for lots and lots of years. To be able to continue in our rivalry with Marquette—I think we have played them close to 100 years now—it is an outstandingly long tradition almost to the time when I think we started playing sports.

On the geography component
At this point in time, I think one of the things that we have been really fortunate with and I think one of the things that we still have that is a tremendous asset to us in the conference is that we are in very, very large markets and in very big cities where college basketball has always had a high level of recognition.

I think the fact that we have New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., the Boston-Providence area is very telling—and certainly Milwaukee. We haven’t really said anything to the extent that we are going to look for more mega markets. I think we are going to look for markets that really support college basketball and that have teams and programs, programs that are established with a high level of success, regardless of market. Often times you can find somebody that is in a smaller market but their television ratings are outstanding, maybe within their own market or nationally. I think we’d be remised if we said we were only going to look at basketball-playing institutions from bigger markets. 

On expanding past a seven-team league
I think the intention would be that we would expand. I don’t think that we’ve determined a number whether or not that be 10 or whether or not that would be 12. I think we all have a strong interest in trying to create home-and-home series. At DePaul, over the years, I can’t even begin to tell you the volumes of emails or what I’ve heard from our fans about how excited they would be to have this kind of alignment or this kind of conference. I think that this is going to be really well-received in Chicago and I think that our fans, our alumni, and our friends who support the program are going to enjoy the opportunity to see us play against other high-level basketball programs. I think from a national perspective, we have the opportunity to create something really special as an outstanding basketball league.

On the steps going forward
There has got to be a sequencing of events that is certainly working for an orderly transition with the conference office. A variety of things are going to have to be determined. From a legal perspective, there are certainly governance issues. There are issues from an administrative standpoint that all have to be managed. I think you have to get down that path before you get to the path of looking at future memberships and all the rest of it. I’m sure there will be a sequencing of events and it’s my understanding that there will be representatives for the seven of us going forward. I think that’s pretty common in our business and with lots of institutions. This sort of changing landscape that we’ve seen over the last 18 months, where institutions are leaving conferences and joining others, there are lots of legal issues that have to be managed and a variety of others that are, like I said, really about governance and the administrative end of things.

On looking to hire a league commissioner
I think that would be up to the presidents. Right now, I think the important part is to work with the BIG EAST office and the BIG EAST Conference staff that currently exists because I think there are a lot of things that can already be managed. As I said, there are a variety of assets that are out there—from the league name to the Madison Square Garden agreement to all of the financial assets, the basketball units, among others—that pretty much contractually are already assigned and going to be easy to manage from a conference perspective. I think that it’s going to be up to the presidents to work with someone to help make sure that we’re following a path that is certainly respectful of the other side of the conference and at the same time that works within the best interests of the group collectively, with the basketball institutions and the football institutions.

One of the things that has really impressed me the most about our presidents is the great sensitivity that they’ve had to making an orderly transition. We have kind of been in a situation as this group of basketball schools where a lot of the transition has just sort of happened or occurred. I think that’s one of the things that they have been really sensitive about is to make sure that they are respectful of everyone’s circumstances and situations going forward. That is one of the reasons why the conference is looking to leave as a group of seven and still leave intact the opportunity for football to go ahead and forge their way, start anew with their new commitment.

Comments on conference alignment from men's basketball coach Oliver Purnell following Northern Illinois game on Dec. 16
Given everything that has transpired, I’m feeling really positive about the direction that things are moving. Obviously, I love the sport of basketball. I coach the sport of basketball, and to be doing something with basketball being the main driver is awfully nice after a couple of years of that not being the case, particularly at a school like DePaul where basketball is clearly the driver.

With the history of the BIG EAST, the storied history and tradition of BIG EAST basketball, I just like the fact that our schools are being proactive and moving in a direction that I think, will be just great. I have always said that DePaul will be fine because we will be in a terrific basketball league and nothing that has transpired in the last week or so that has changed my mind. In fact, it’s just affirmed what I have thought all along.

I am feeling pretty positive about it. I haven’t focused on a lot of it—I have talked to Jean (Lenti Ponsetto) about it, you know, a bunch coming and going but she’s clearly been focused on it and I think all of the presidents and ADs are moving this thing in the right direction. That’s my take on it.

Comments on conference alignment from women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno following Northern Illinois game on Dec. 15
Our administrators do a great job administrating. Coaches are supposed to coach, and that’s what we’re trying to do every day. Players are supposed to play and I told (athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto) from the first time this all started to just tell me which tee box to show up on and I will bring our team and swing away. That’s really all we can do. There’s really nothing we can do as coaches that will have anything to do with any of this.

When you’ve done this as long as I have, the rivalries and traditions at DePaul University go back to Marquette, Notre Dame, Dayton. We always played Georgetown, we always played St. John’s and the basketball teams that are the “Catholic seven.” That’s really the basic rivalries we’ve always had and those will continue.