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St. John’s to join six other Catholic colleges to form new league

TimesLedger Newspapers

St. John’s University and the six other Big East Catholic schools are seeking a return to their programs’ basketball roots.

The seven presidents announced in a statement Saturday that they plan on leaving the conference and its football-based schools behind in an attempt to shape their own futures.

“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,” the statement said.

St. John’s, along with DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova, which are considered the conference’s basketball schools, voted unanimously to exit the Big East to form their own hoops-based league. St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova helped found the league in 1979.

“Our focus clearly we recognized had to be on basketball as our major sport,” St. John’s University President the Rev. Donald J. Harrington said in a conference call. “It was more and more difficult to maintain that focus when many of the priorities of the conference legitimately had to be on football.”

The split, which may have to wait until Jan. 30, 2015, took place over a philosophical difference with the present 17-school league and its football schools. It was triggered by the recent departure of West Virginia to the Big 12 and the future exits of Notre Dame, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Louisville to play in football power conferences like the ACC and the Big Ten. The league would add schools like Tulane, Boise State, Temple and SMU among others with football in mind.

“We believe at St. John’s that it’s important that we shape our future rather than have it happen to us,” Harrington said.

It has yet to be determined which conference will keep the Big East name and the status of Madison Square Garden as the home of its men’s basketball conference tournaments. Steve Lavin, Red Storm men’s basketball coach, believes the program will thrive in the new setting because of what St. John’s has to offer in terms of its tradition, its New York City location and its brand of basketball.

“We are confident it’s going to work out well for St. John’s,” he said.

Harrington and St. John’s Athletic Director Chris Monasch both said the university is prepared to make the financial commitment if necessary to keep the men’s and women’s basketball programs at an elite level. Monasch is confident the new league can win a substantial television rights package. He said while the focus is basketball, St. John’s has not changed it commitment to be leaders in other sports such as men’s soccer and baseball.

“That’s always been an emphasis at St. John’s to compete at the highest level we can in the sports that we sponsor,” Monasch said. “That will continue to be the goal.”

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