MILWAUKEE — Marquette University wants to be in control of its own destiny, and in order for that to happen it had to part ways with the Big East Conference.
The league it was thrilled to join in 2005 no longer is the best fit for a university that prides itself on playing an elite level of basketball. Though the split from the conference is bittersweet, the excitement was obvious Saturday as the move was announced at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and the Golden Eagles are now on their own, likely to be joined by a few other like-minded, basketball-focused schools.
“We couldn’t be more excited for Marquette basketball and for the basketball that’s played by our fellow members,” Marquette athletic director Larry Williams said Saturday. “It’s a common and universal commitment to elite-level basketball and other sports. It’s really going to be an exciting future.”
Seven years ago when MU joined, the Big East was arguably the best men’s basketball conference in the country. But the league’s vision and foundation has moved progressively further away from basketball — the very sport the league was formed to emphasize.
As the Big East moved to protect its football brand, the basketball schools weren’t on board. Naturally, moving to a league where men’s basketball will be the primary focus thrills Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
“As a men’s basketball coach, I’m 1,000 percent in support,” Buzz Williams said after his team defeated Savannah State on Saturday. “Regardless of what the name is, regardless of who they add or when they add, I can’t ascertain those answers. But I can tell you that the decision was collectively made because there is a commitment from Marquette and those other institutions that men’s basketball is really important. I think that’s outstanding.”
Larry Williams and Marquette University president Father Scott Pilarz wouldn’t delve into specific details such as when the new league will begin play, whether it will keep the Big East name or where the league tournament will be played. It was evident both want to be cautious but still move swiftly to begin play in the new league.
“There’s a lot of work to do,” Larry Williams said. “There will be mutual commitment to getting about that work as quickly as possible. We envision an orderly transition. We’d like to work with our current conference members to find appropriate solutions for both sides as there is a split. We want it to be an amicable parting as we go our separate ways.”
As far as a future television deal, Larry Williams and Pilarz again wouldn’t talk specifics but are confident the new league will be a hot commodity for TV networks.
“General terms, we feel quite comfortable that this group and this intent of being elite in basketball and other sports has staying power, has market value,” Larry Williams said. “We feel very confident. We feel very good about controlling our own destiny, and part of that control is being supported by the interest of many entities.”
Though talks of a split recently gained steam, this process has been ongoing for a long time. The seven university presidents and athletic directors have discussed and thought out several options before settling on the decision to split off on their own.
The vote occurred on a conference call Saturday, with the result being a unanimous decision.
“We have been honored to be associated with the outstanding group of institutions that have made up the Big East,” the seven university presidents said in a released statement. “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.”
Big East commissioner Mike Aresco responded to the news of the seven schools leaving, seeming confident that the league will move forward and survive.
“The 13 members of the Conference are confident and united regarding our collective future,” Aresco said in a statement. “We have a strong Conference with respected national universities, and are working together to forge the future. We have a variety of options, and are looking forward with great partnership, collegiality and optimism.”
However the future turns out for the old Big East, Marquette no longer was a fit. The leadership at the university saw what was happening and moved forward to protect the school’s future.
For Buzz Williams, who admitted the conference realignment chaos has come up in recruiting, his fears of being stuck in a weaker basketball league have been alleviated.
“From a going forward standpoint, one thing that you can say (is) that at Marquette and at those six other institutions that will be in that league: this is the basketball league in the country,” Buzz Williams said. “I think that is really important.
“All these schools, they really care about men’s basketball.”