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Larry Williams ‘On the Issue’ of conference realignment

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Marquette Athletic Director Larry Williams went “On the Issues” Thursday, speaking to Mike Gousha about Marquette’s departure from the Big East and the challenges it faces going forward during conference realignment.

Before accepting the job at Marquette last year, Williams was the athletic director at the University of Portland for eight years. During his tenure, the school’s women’s soccer team won national championships in 2002 and 2005.

Williams said Portland’s commitment to the growth of young men and women as athletes and students was what he valued most at the university, but he said he felt Marquette also embodied these qualities at an elite level.

This mindset and commitment to the growth of student athletes, Williams said, will be the main focus of the athletic department over the course of conference realignment. In an effort to promote this growth, Williams said, the university will pursue the construction of a field house, open to all students, where athletes can train year round.

“It’s about combining elite level competition in sports with academic pursuits that are not compromised,” Williams said.

Williams said he is unable to offer specifics surrounding Marquette’s departure from the Big East due to legal restrictions. However, he expressed enthusiasm over the Catholic 7’s ability to control its own destiny and its opportunity to redefine itself in the larger NCAA landscape.

Despite the excitement, Williams was quick to point to the challenges of building a new conference. He noted issues such as the negotiation of assets and marketing rights as hurdles facing the new conference but also acknowledged that the pay out from a new TV deal could be substantial.

“It’s remarkable, Williams said. “It’s really an affirmation of what we’re about, and it feels really gratifying to know that these companies want to put us on their programming.”

According to Sports Illustrated, Fox has approached the seven schools with a deal that would grant each $3 million per year.

One detail was missing from the discussion of legal issues. After initially breaking away from the Big East, the Catholic 7 was able to hire Joseph Leccese, the chairman of the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP and co-head of the Sports Law Group. Leccese has previously represented the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and Pac-12 and has negotiated the acquisition of the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Nationals for their respective owners.

Proskauer Rose LLP is known for its strong-arm approach, as made evident during the strenuous lockout negotiations it participated in while representing the NBA and NHL. This mentality opens the door to the possibility of the seven schools leaving much earlier than expected.

Williams actually hinted at this accelerated timeline, saying that although the schools have two more years of obligation to the Big East, cooler heads will prevail, and he foresees new conference play beginning in the fall of 2014.

Discussion then moved to the possibility of creating a 10 to 12-team conference. When Gousha mentioned the feasibility of adding a school like Butler, Williams smiled.

“Although a school like Butler is not religiously affiliated, it holds many of the same values as Marquette,” Williams said. He mentioned Butler’s run to the 2010 NCAA men’s basketball championship game, where it lost to the University of Connecticut. During the week leading up the Final Four, the Butler players attended all of their classes, including those on the day of the championship.

“That’s exactly what college athletics is about,” Williams said. “That’s why Butler fits with the seven schools that decided to withdraw (from the Big East).”

Butler’s administration has been relatively quiet regarding talk of leaving the Atlantic 10. However, Butler President James Danko has not ruled out the possibility of joining the seven former Big East schools.

“Our administrators, our coaches, our trustees and our team will continue to do what is right for Butler and its students,” Danko said in a statement.

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