Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 9:35 am / Updated at 9:22 pm
Creighton joins Big East in 'match made in heaven'

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NEW YORK — Creighton's move to the Big East Conference “is a match made in heaven,” CU's president, the Rev. Timothy Lannon said Wednesday.

Lannon spoke after the formal announcement at Fox's Midtown Manhattan headquarters. He said Creighton would become a full member this summer, including a full share of TV rights.

Creighton joins Butler, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Villanova and Xavier in a league that will be basketball-centered. The league will be showcased on a new Fox Sports 1 channel, which is being launched this summer on what is now the Speed channel. A 12-year TV contract reportedly will pay schools at least $3 million per year.

The Rev. Timothy Lannon

The move also means an end this summer to Creighton's long association with the Missouri Valley Conference.

Hundreds of excited Creighton fans and supporters turned out at D.J. Sokol Arena on the CU campus to hear the official announcement.

In a recorded video statement, Lannon said the move presents opportunities for the university and its basketball program.

“We see an opportunity for greatness,” he said. “This is our moment.”

Lannon said Creighton received its invitation to the Big East on March 13, but the university's board had already voted to accept an invitation if one came.

Rick Virgin, Creighton's vice president for development, said the change presents challenges and opportunities for him and his fundraising staff.

Creighton will need to boost its athletic department budget to be competitive with the other Big East Schools, he said. But it also will have a higher national profile that will give it access to more philanthropists and potential students from across the country.

CU-Big East timeline

December 2012: The Rev. Timothy Lannon, Creighton University president, has conversations with several Big East school presidents, alerting them Creighton would be interested in joining the new conference.

January 2013: Lannon lobbies the other university presidents in earnest, making the case for inviting Creighton. The other presidents remain tight-lipped about where Creighton stands.

Feb. 27: Big East legal counsel informs Lannon that an invitation is possible.

March 4: Although an official invitation has yet to be extended, the Creighton Board of Trustees discusses the possibility in executive session during a regularly scheduled meeting. Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen walks the board through the challenges and opportunities involved.

March 7: The Board of Trustees' executive committee grants provisional authority to accept an invitation if extended.

March 13: Lannon receives a phone call from DePaul's president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, officially extending an invitation. Later in the day, the executive committee convenes a special meeting, grants authority to join the new conference.

March 15: Lannon calls Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin to inform him of the decision.

March 20: The Big East announces its new lineup featuring Creighton and nine other schools at a press conference in New York City.

“This is an opportunity that doesn't come along very often,” he said.

Admissions director Sarah Richardson agreed. Though Creighton already has a “very strong profile” among the nation's top students, she expects that the new conference will give the university better exposure in areas where it's less well-known today.

“Our goal is to remain a strong national institution with a strong local base,” she said.

Students Madison Bendorf, a sophomore from Bellevue and Amanda Brandt, a junior from Kearney, said they were thrilled by the change.

Bendorf said she's been a Bluejay fan since she was a little child.

“It's going to be big,” she said, emphasizing the word “big.”

Matt and Tierney Neneman, Creighton alumni, said they are looking forward to attending the Big East Conference Tournament in Madison Square Garden.

“A lot of us were talking in the stands today about already making plans for the tournament in New York,” Tierney Neneman said. “We've loved going to St. Louis (for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament), but this will be exciting. We're talking about adjusting our plans and can't wait to get to New York.”

Elmar Bolowich, Creighton's soccer coach, said the Jays are joining the best soccer conference in the country.

Will CU take a step back in a tougher league? “Are you kidding?” Bolowich said. “I hope not. We want to compete and we want to compete for championships.”

Maryanne Rouse, a Creighton alumna, said she wants to know more about the impact on women's athletics.

“It could be a plus overall because this new conference could expand recruiting for Creighton,” she said.

Omaha attorney and Bluejay fan David Kramer said he missed only two of CU's men's basketball games this season.

That's going to be a lot harder, now that Creighton has moved to a new conference.

“I'm going to have to significantly increase the travel budget to come close to what we did this year,” Kramer said.

The Rev. Brian Shanley, president of Providence College in Rhode Island, said during the video conference that keeping the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden was a major coup for the new conference.

“It's a destination — even Omaha people are going to come,” he said, winning a big cheer from the Sokol Arena crowd.

“The thrill of walking into the Garden is a thrill every basketball fan appreciates.”

MAPPING THE BIG EAST
How far is it to each Big East school? That (and more) on our Big East map.

Georgetown President Jack DeGioia said the seven Big East basketball schools had discussions in December and realized that the football schools were no longer making the basketball programs stronger.

In January, the schools began the negotiations with Fox about forming a new conference.

"With all of the football-driven changes that have occured in college sports, we are here discussing the very same things we discussed when the Big East was formed in 1979. Each of those schools had cultivated and embraced a rich tradition of urban basketball," DeGioia said.

Shanley didn't rule out the possibility of continued Big East expansion.

"We're 10 for next year. We know that for sure. When and how we get to 12 is negotiable between us and our partners. We've discussed a number of schools. We also believe that the landscape for college sports has not stopped morphing.

"For now we're happy at 10."

George Grieb, a retired Creighton vice president and 40-year fan of the Bluejays, said he wouldn't have missed Wednesday's announcement.

“I want to be part of this,” he said. “I think history's being made today.”

BIG EAST ATHLETIC SPENDING
Click here to compare CU's athletic spending with other Big East schools.

TV deal

The Big East and Fox Sports have agreed to a 12-year TV deal that will begin in the 2013-14 academic year.

Fox Sports 1 is a new cable sports channel being launched this summer. It will replace the Speed channel on cable and satellite lineups, and show more than 100 college basketball games next season.

The new TV contract gives Fox rights to all conference-controlled men's basketball games and select rights to other sports. Fox Sports 1 will carry the entire Big East men's basketball tournament.

More on the deal from Fox Sports.

Reaction

In a video to fans, Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said, "We sincerely believe this move will help us fulfill our vision, not just for athletics, but for Creighton University as a whole. ... We need to be in a conference that is intensely focused on being the best men's basketball conference in the country."

"After much evaluation, we feel that joining the Big East Conference gives us a greater opportunity to recruit, retain, develop and graduate outstanding students and outstanding student-athletes."

FANS REACT TO MOVE
See more of how fans (and some CU officials) reacted to the news.

In a statement, Lannon said: "This rare opportunity caused us to examine closely Creighton's future and the future of other Division I conferences. We have enjoyed our affiliation with the Missouri Valley Conference over the years, but when an exceptional opportunity presented itself, we paused and carefully considered our options. We see this new partnership enhancing the visibility of the University through increased national media exposure. This will positively impact our athletic programs, recruitment of students and faculty, and cultivation of additional philanthropic opportunities."

In a Tweet Wednesday morning, CU men's basketball coach Greg McDermott said, "We can't wait to begin our journey as a member of the Big East! Exciting times ahead for the JAYS! Now we just need to beat the Bearcats!"

During the New York City announcement, the Rev. Brian Shanley of Providence said there is nothing like the Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament. Even Omaha people are going to like coming here.

That gets laughter and applause from Sokol crowd.

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Reaction: Creighton joins the Big East



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More on the new Big East, impact on CU

While its entry into the reconfigured, basketball-centric conference will have the Bluejays annually going against some big names in big cities, it also will mean leaving the Missouri Valley Conference, Creighton's longtime home.

Creighton will be joining a group of like-minded institutions. All 10 teams in the reconstituted Big East are private schools, nine are Catholic, and all have little or no football history but share reputations for playing big-time hoops.

While Creighton will be moving all sports to the new league, there is no doubt which sport is king in the new conference: basketball. It's one of the main reasons the “Catholic 7” broke away from the football-playing members of the Big East — to get back to a conference where basketball is front and center.

The move could provide advantages for Creighton in general student recruitment, increasing its profile in some of the largest media markets in the country. DePaul is in Chicago, St. John's is in New York City, and the league's annual tournament will continue to be held in New York's Madison Square Garden.

Creighton draws nearly two-thirds of its students from outside Nebraska.

BLUEJAYS TODAY ON FACEBOOK
Discuss the Big East move on the Bluejays Today Facebook page.

Creighton joined the Valley in 1928, left as an independent for several decades and returned in 1977. Creighton will be among the smaller schools in the new league, though the undergraduate enrollment it reported in 2011 was close to that of Xavier, Butler, Providence and Seton Hall.

Of Creighton's total undergraduate, graduate and professional school enrollment of 7,730 last year, 65 percent came from outside Nebraska, with students from every state represented. Almost 10 percent of its students came from states in the geographic footprint of the new league.

But when it comes to athletic budgets, Creighton is more like its current Missouri Valley colleagues than the schools in the new league.

Creighton reported its athletic budget at about $15 million in 2011, which was right at the average for Missouri Valley schools. By contrast, the Catholic 7 athletic budgets averaged $27.5 million. And even when excluding big dollars that a handful of schools spend on football, hockey and lacrosse, the average was $24 million.

Creighton's $4.4 million in basketball spending trailed all the Catholic 7 schools, though it was close to what Butler and Xavier spend. In some sports, Creighton's budget is already competitive with the proposed new league. Its baseball budget would be the highest in the league, its men's soccer budget the second-highest.

World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole and Steven Pivovar contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Joseph Morton

joe.morton@owh.com    |  

Joe is The World-Herald's Washington, D.C., bureau, covering national political developments that matter most to Midlanders.

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