WASHINGTON – Moments after 15th- ranked Georgetown’s 81-68 victory over Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center, presidents from the seven non-FBS football schools of the Big East released a statement saying that they would be leaving to form a new league based around basketball.
Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s represent four of the founding seven members from 1979. Villanova joined a year later while DePaul and Marquette entered the league in 2005.
Often considered one of the anchors of the Big East along with Syracuse – which is leaving after this season – there now seems to be no doubt as to Georgetown’s position as the leading member going forward in what could actually still be called The Big East.
Despite both Marquette and St. John’s also playing games on Saturday afternoon, the statement that the seven schools would be leaving to “pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors history and tradition” came through Georgetown’s Assistant Vice Media for Communications Stacy Kerr.
Georgetown’s status as the most recognizable brand among the seven departing schools doesn’t seem uncomfortable for anyone involved, especially the man ultimately credited with the wins and losses on the court.
“As much as we’re stepping out there together, we’re much different and unique from the other six schools,” Thompson III reminded everybody in the room.
In a seating area normally reserved for standout players, Georgetown AD Lee Reed joined Thompson III on the post game platform in front of reporters to discuss the future of Georgetown as the university finally became proactive in steering its athletic future in an environment of constant change.
“I think we’re trying to get to a place where the focus was on where we are and what we are philosophically in terms of our model of intercollegiate athletics,” Lee explained about the bold decision.
Up until now, all of the Big East moves, as well as most of the conference realignment moves throughout the country over the past few years, had been centered around FBS football. Georgetown doesn’t have that aspect in its athletic department as the Hoyas currently compete at the FCS level in the Patriot league, and will continue to do so according to Reed.
Villanova is the only other departing school that also fields a football team, also residing in FCS, but in the Colonial Athletic Conference.
The Catholic Seven – as they have been commonly referred to over the past week as rumors of a split have intensified – can not officially leave the Big East without financial penalty until June 30, 2015. In an ever changing world, that date, as well as most other details, is likely negotiable.
Although no timetable has been set, it appears that Atlantic 10 schools such as Butler, Xavier, Dayton, and St. Louis as well as Missouri Valley member Creighton and even West Coast Conference perennial power Gonzaga all seem to be in the mix to form a likely ten to twelve team league.
Despite the obvious common religious affiliation among the departing schools, it won’t be the deciding factor going forward in the selection process for new members.
“The common philosophical link is not religion, it’s basketball,” Thompson III went on to say after being asked about the focus of the new conference.
“So we talk about a basketball-centric conference. I have felt comfortable about that. Georgetown has never changed in that regard, regardless of who we’re in conference with or who we’ve been in a conference with or who we will be in a conference with, that’s something that’s important.”
Also in the room, although unavailable for official comment, was John Thompson Jr who brought home Georgetown’s only National Championship in men’s basketball in 1984.
Georgetown 81 Western Carolina 68 – Despite the post game fireworks, there was a game played Saturday afternoon as the Hoyas (9-1) picked up their sixth straight win and first ever against the Catamounts (4-7). Greg Whittington led all scorers with a career-high 25 points and eleven rebounds while Jabril Trawick also posted a career-high 14 points, eleven of them coming in the first twenty minutes as the Hoyas held a 42-30 advantage at the break.
Otto Porter Jr added 12 points and nine rebounds and Markel Starks rounded out the double figure scorers for the Hoyas with ten on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor.
In the midst of a dreadful shooting slump since the UCLA win last month in Brooklyn, Whittington connected on two three-pointers during a 24-10 run to start the second half that gave the Hoyas their largest lead of the game at 66-40. The sophomore forward had connected on just 5-of-26 from that distance over the last six games.
Western Carolina kept the game close for most of the first half thanks to some zone busting three-point shooting that forced Thompson III to change his defensive strategy. The Catamounts hit seven of their 15 three-point attempts for the half and finished making 11-of-22.
“I think these guys sometimes just think we’re just joking around, but after [Tom Tankelewicz] banged four or five of them we were a lot more attentive.” said about his team’s early defensive struggles and subsequent adjustment.
In all, Tankelewicz connected on six three-pointers – five in the first half – and finished with a team leading 24 points.
Always the tough grader, Thompson III didn’t act surprised by Whittington’s offensive outburst.
“Greg was fine,” Thompson III said with a straight face, before cracking a smile that brought laughter to the room, including Whittington who sat to his right.
“I’ve said this before, I don’t judge by how he does just looking at the stat sheet because he can do so many different things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Up Next: Georgetown returns home next Saturday to face local rival American. The Hoyas hold a 44-8 all-time advantage in the series and haven’t lost to the Eagles since the 1982-83 season. It will also be Georgetown’s only game from December 15 to Jan 5, an odd scheduling quirk thanks in large part to a later than normal start to the Big East schedule.