Posted: Thu February 28, 2013 6:37PM; Updated: Thu February 28, 2013 7:29PM
Pete Thamel

Catholic Seven could begin play as early as next season

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St. John's and Seton Hall are two of the seven catholic schools breaking away from the Big East. They could start play in the their new conference next season.
St. John's and Seton Hall are two of the seven catholic schools breaking away from the Big East. They could start play in the their new conference next season.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The future of the Catholic Seven basketball conference is expected to become more clear within the next week. An announcement about the television contract with Fox and the teams that the league plans to add could come as early as Tuesday at a Fox Television event in New York City.

Perhaps the most significant development is that the new league appears headed toward beginning play next season, with one source saying that there's a "better chance" that the league starts in 2013-14 than in 2014-15.

Presidents at the Big East football schools are scheduled to meet in Atlanta on Friday where they're expected to sign off on selling the Big East name to the Catholic Seven and finalize the exit fees. The Big East football schools are expected to keep nearly all of the exit fees the league earned from its spree of attrition and the leftover NCAA units from the departure of schools such as Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse.

That leaves the biggest looming question of how many teams will the Catholic Seven end up adding for its inaugural season. The chance exists that the league could start with nine teams if it begins next year, as the Atlantic 10 exit fees are $2 million per school. (In the non-football world, that's a significant amount of money.) One of the biggest remaining snags is Butler and Xavier untangling themselves from the Atlantic 10, as an immediate departure would be expensive.

The league will eventually expand to 12 teams in the next few years, with Creighton, Dayton and Saint Louis expected to fill in the final three slots. If the league grows to 10 next year Creighton is considered a slight favorite for the 10th spot.

With 12 teams the league will provide more television inventory for Fox, which is starting a sports cable network this fall. No one wants to start the league to start next year more than Fox, as the batch of original sports programing would be critical to its lineup. Fox's upfront presentation for its advertisers will be held Tuesday at the Marquis Theatre in New York at 4 p.m. There's a press event already scheduled earlier that day, a logical time to roll out the plans for the new sports network and any details about the Catholic Seven.

In terms of market value, Fox is making a huge investment in Catholic Seven basketball. The old Big East's top four basketball teams -- UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple -- are of similar quality as the Catholic Seven's top four programs -- Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova and Butler.

ESPN will pay about $2 million per school to the Big East, which includes a full slate of football games. Fox expects to pay more than $3 million per school to the Catholic Seven for just basketball. Depending on the amount of teams in the league, the Fox money to the Catholic Seven could end up closer to $4 million.

One of the final stumbling blocks was the Big East's name. It's expected that sale of the name will be finalized to the breakaway Catholic Seven -- St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, Providence, DePaul, Villanova and Georgetown -- which will provide one of the final pieces for the new league moving forward.

This latest development puts the Notre Dame basketball in limbo, as the Irish want to avoid a year in flux before their planned move to the ACC. Notre Dame's strong preference would be to enter the ACC next year, an option that's possible as the ACC schedule for next season hasn't been completed.

The ACC would be Notre Dame's first choice, followed by a stopover year in the Catholic Seven The least favored option would be playing with the leftover Big East teams.

Some clarity is also expected soon about Madison Square Garden as the home for a postseason basketball venue. It's expected that MSG will eventually link together with the Catholic Seven schools, barring any significant interest by the ACC to become an annual occupant. (That interest is unlikely because of the ACC's traditional Southern geographic ties.)

It's likely that the Catholic Seven will end up with its two biggest wishes -- the Big East name and the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. Fox appears to be getting its biggest wish, too -- that the new league will begin play next season.

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