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New BIG EAST Conference Makes Official Debut on Monday
Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, flanked by coach Oliver Purnell (left) and coach Doug Bruno, said excitement for the new BIG EAST is off the charts.

Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, flanked by coach Oliver Purnell (left) and coach Doug Bruno, said excitement for the new BIG EAST is off the charts.

June 28, 2013

CHICAGO – It will be an exciting and historic occasion on Monday with the official launch of the basketball-centric new BIG EAST Conference.

DePaul along with BIG EAST programs Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova separated from the football-playing BIG EAST schools to form their own conference.

Last March, the presidents of those seven schools along with the presidents from new BIG EAST members Butler, Creighton and Xavier formally unveiled the 10-team league and an unprecedented alliance with FOX Sports and its new national cable network, FOX Sports 1.

It was a proactive response to the continuously evolving landscape of college sports with athletic programs moving from one conference to another.

In a matter of just 15 months spanning September of 2011 to November of 2012, six BIG EAST programs left the conference in moves primarily dictated by the football programs.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in September of 2011. In February of 2012, West Virginia announced its move to the Big 12.

Notre Dame made its move to the ACC in September of 2012. In November of that same year, Rutgers set out for the Big Ten and Louisville joined the ACC.

“All of the athletic directors from BIG EAST basketball schools have met separately from the ADs of football schools since they always had their own set of issues to resolve,” said DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. “There were regular calls among the basketball athletic directors from Sept. 2011 to Sept. 2012.

“We ramped it up when Syracuse and Pittsburgh left to join the ACC on Sept. 18, 2011. We continued to talk as things started to change. While the BIG EAST was looking to expand with Temple, Memphis, Houston, Central Florida, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State, we kept hearing rumblings of an unstable environment for football.

“Things got unstable in a hurry. After Louisville left, it became apparent that both Cincinnati and Connecticut were also trying to move into the ACC. Those are two more important basketball brands.”

It was time for the BIG EAST basketball schools to take action.

In December of 2012, the presidents and athletic directors of Georgetown, Marquette, St. John’s, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul met in New York to talk about their alternatives. After weighing everything out, they were all in agreement that the seven schools wanted to stay together.

“We knew about the separation agreement and that the basketball schools could go their own way without a penalty,” Ponsetto said. “The school presidents decided to engage counsel and had serious talks about a separation agreement with the seven of us leaving the conference.

“By separating as a group, we would not have to pay a $5 million exit penalty. We also negotiated to take the NCAA units (revenue from the NCAA basketball fund) earned by our men’s basketball programs with us. We went ahead with the option to retain the BIG EAST name and play our conference tournament in Madison Square Garden.

“The BIG EAST name was really important. We had five of the original members while DePaul and Marquette had been associated with the league since 2005. It had greater meaning for us than all the new schools in what is now the American Athletic Conference. We had built up a lot of equity in the sport of basketball.

“Our footprint was still in the East and Midwest, and our teams had all played in Madison Square Garden. We wanted to retain that asset as well.”

The separating schools, nicknamed “The Catholic Seven,” engaged former CBS Sports president Neil Pilson as a consultant to provide insight into the marketplace and assess their TV value. He helped negotiate the TV contract with FOX Sports.

At the same time, the seven schools talked about expansion. There was a robust list of schools that wanted to join them. They put together the data and chose schools sharing a general commonality, the same athletic programs and who have been successful in NCAA Championships in those programs.

“Men’s basketball was going to be the primary revenue source,” Ponsetto said. “We placed a top priority on schools that could attract high-quality coaches and also had strong programs in all sports.

“We looked at other private institutions with similar financial resources and quality academics in an urban setting that make contributions to the community. We had some excellent choices.

“We decided to start the league with 10 schools and invited Butler, Xavier and Creighton.

“The next step was starting up a new league. The presidents wanted a commissioner with high character and values and someone who will be a dynamic leader that understands men’s and women’s basketball. They wanted someone with a sharp insight into the political landscape of the NCAA who has a strong relationship with the media.”

The BIG EAST announced last Wednesday the appointment of former NBA, WNBA and USA Basketball executive Val Ackerman as the first commissioner of the newly reconstituted league that will be based in New York City.

After serving as special assistant to NBA Commissioner David Stern and Vice President of Business Affairs, Ackerman began a nine-year tenure as the founding president of the Women's National Basketball Association. She further solidified her status as a trailblazing and results-oriented sports executive during her subsequent four-year term as the first female president of USA Basketball, which culminated in gold medal performances by both the men's and women's basketball teams at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The 2011 inductee into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame has most recently served as an NCAA consultant on the state of women's college basketball.

“Val is an excellent choice for commissioner of the BIG EAST Conference,” Ponsetto said. “She is a pioneer and a visionary that brings a lifetime of experience in branding and marketing that will greatly benefit our new league.

“With all of her success in the NBA, WNBA and USA Basketball, she has made quite an impact in the basketball realm. She is a passionate and staunch advocate for the values of intercollegiate sports.

“As for our other sports programs, Val will surround herself with a top-notch staff that will allow us to bring great distinction to the BIG EAST in all the sports we sponsor.”

It all comes to fruition on the first day in July.

“The energy and enthusiasm surrounding the new BIG EAST is off the charts for students, faculty, staff and fans,” Ponsetto said. “All of the schools have such outstanding brands with proud traditions.

“It’s really exciting that the relationships we’ve had over the years are really going to manifest themselves on the field of competition.”