Marquette to help found new conference with ‘Catholic Seven’

Exactly one month ago, Marquette announced its plan to leave the Big East to start a new conference alongside the six other Catholic universities in the Big East: Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul and Providence.

“The Catholic Seven,” as the schools are called, have negotiated with the Big East ever since in an effort to move up the date of their withdrawal. Marquette Vice President and Director of Athletics Larry Williams said the group is contractually obligated to remain in the Big East until July 1, 2015, but he thinks an earlier departure would serve everyone’s best interest. Williams said July 1, 2014 is a realistic goal for withdrawal, but he hopes to finish a deal in time to legally leave the Big East by July 1, 2013.

“The bottom line is, everybody wants to get off and do their own thing,” Williams said. “(The remaining Big East schools) want to build their conference, and we certainly want to get about building ours.”

Williams said the Catholic Seven hope to build their conference with “schools that are committed to competitive excellence, primarily in men’s basketball, and also competitive excellence across a number of other team sports.”

Other sports that Williams said he will value highly in prospective additions to the Catholic Seven will include women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball.

In recent weeks, universities such as Gonzaga, Dayton, Virginia Commonwealth and St. Louis have been reported as good fits for the Catholic Seven’s specifications. Additionally, Williams mentioned Xavier and Butler by name as particularly logical potential members.

He also did not rule out the possibility of including non-Catholic and public schools (such as Butler), as long as their athletic programs fit the bill.

“I don’t think religious affiliation, historic or current, will be determinative of someone’s fit in the conference,” Williams said. “One need not be religiously affiliated to be committed to excellence.”

However, Williams did all but dispel the rumors regarding the inclusion of Connecticut and Cincinnati, as both universities have Division I FBS football programs. Since the Catholic Seven’s conference will likely be composed of non-football schools, Connecticut and Cincinnati would likely need to play football as independents if they were to join.

“I don’t think it’s a logical assumption that those schools would be a part of our group,” Williams said.

In addition to figuring out their future conference’s membership, the Catholic Seven have also been working to secure a TV contract for game broadcasts. ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported Saturday that the Catholic Seven representatives met with Fox officials last Wednesday to talk about a TV deal.

“At the end of the day, we’re really excited about the level of enthusiasm from not just Fox but the other media companies as well,” Williams said. “They want to have the content that we, as the seven schools, are going to be about … and there are ongoing negotiations that will continue for some time before a media deal is finally put in place.”

A new NCAA Division I conference has not been formed since 2004, when the Great West conference was established, so Marquette is in relatively uncharted waters right now. However, Williams said he and the rest of the Catholic Seven’s representatives are up to the challenge.

“We’re really starting anew, and that’s really exciting because not many schools have been able to do that,” he said. “We’re able to write our history and control our destiny, and that’s the most exciting thing about this.”