Ponsetto, DePaul optimistic about athletics future after Big East exit

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As particular details continue to develop, DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said Saturday that DePaul was excited regarding its future after its split with six other schools from the Big East.

Last Friday, ESPN reported that the seven catholic schools in the Big East reached a deal to leave the conference starting in 2015. In a sit-down interview, Ponsetto told The DePaulia that the move was about becoming the strongest basketball conference possible.

The seven schools involved in the move include DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova.

“The feedback so far about the potential alignment this can create has been very positive,”said Ponsetto. “The idea was to create the best basketball conference in the country that competes at the highest level.”

According to Ponsetto, DePaul’s president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. and the six other presidents involved had been closely eyeing the developments in the Big East. Since 2004, 10 other schools have left for other conferences.

Conference calls between the schools have happened often, Ponsetto said.  On Dec. 9, the seven presidents met to discuss in person a potential split from the Big East.

“This hasn’t been something our presidents have anticipated doing for a long time,”said Ponsetto. “I think they looked at the opportunity that was before them and said, you know, that it appears to be the right time for a variety of reasons.

“Most of them were centered around doing what was best for our institutions,”she said. “Our presidents, having had an opportunity to spend some time face-to-face, found out that they had a real similar common interest in making this move.”

Another factor in the move was partly based on the Big East’s newfound focus on college football, according to Ponsetto. By the 2015-2016 season, when the seven schools are scheduled to depart, the Big East will have four football-only members that wouldn’t contribute to the quality of basketball the Big East is accustomed to seeing.

As it stands now, the 2015-2016 season would only have nine teams — UConn, Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis, Central Florida, SMU, Houston, Tulane and Temple — for basketball, while 13 schools would compete in football.

The seven schools that departed wanted to focus on what the Big East was originally about: basketball.

“Our presidents made a bold step forward to separate ourselves from the football institutions,”said Ponsetto. “We really enjoyed our affiliation with the football members in the league. I couldn’t point to any one factor that was driving (the move) more than the other.

“Over the years, we’ve had lots of people -from our fans, student-athletes or people in the university community -say, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be great if DePaul were affiliated with a league that was more basketball-centric?'”said Ponsetto.

Of course, a new conference would mean plenty of potential new revenue as well. Ponsetto said that while it wasn’t clear what that revenue would be, she did acknowledge that a new conference would have its rewards.

“Because of our locations and our programs’histories and the number of NCAA appearances and national championships that we have to our credit as a group, I think that would be really attractive (to securing a television deal),”said Ponsetto.

“Our programs make a very high commitment to high quality, highly competitive basketball, so I think we’ll be very attractive to the television entities.”

The new deal, and the topic of conference realignment in general, have some people believing the move is driven by money. Cincinnati Bearcats’men’s basketball coach Mike Cronin told ESPN “it’s a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this. The money that one sport is swinging around is swaying universities to make decisions. Don’t tell me that people care about student-athletes.”

“I don’t think in our case you can say that because we don’t know what the future revenue potential of this alignment will be at this point,”said Ponsetto. “What we do know is probably more in control of our own destiny and not continuing to react to lots of change on the horizon that we’ve experienced in the last 18-24 months.”

For DePaul, there are plenty of potential benefits to forming a new conference with the six other schools. Ponsetto discussed the impact the move should have on recruiting.

“I think the talent level will be really exciting,”said Ponsetto. “I can’t really say [the recruiting level] is going to be better, but I think that it’s going to be a really exciting and fun conference for student-athletes to play in.”

The departure from the Big East could also have implications on a new arena deal. In 2015, DePaul’s lease with Allstate Arena in Rosemont will expire and the Blue Demons are in the process of looking for a new arena closer to campus.

“In terms of our view of looking to be a part of new arena, I think it’s really exciting,”said Ponsetto. “It’s really exciting that our season ticket holders at that point of time in our programs’history would be looking at an opportunity to where our men’s basketball program, especially, would have a home court that they would be able to practice in. This could become more of a home court advantage than what we would be able to enjoy when you play in a building that isn’t your own.”

Going forward, Ponsetto said she still respected the Big East. Many have speculated how the conference will survive with all the movement, but Ponsetto said she thinks the conference will still be strong.

“The ongoing conference of the Big East has the potential to be a strong football conference and has some very strong basketball programs,”said Ponsetto. “They have a good product they can continue to build around.

“They’ll have a real dynamic football conference and a good opportunity to stay together and have the commonality of football as their main program,”said Ponsetto. “But I think they will have some good basketball to build on.”

With the seven schools moving on, there is a chance they could look to add other catholic schools such as Xaiver, Dayton or Gonzaga, according to ESPN. Ponsetto said that the “necessary vetting and all the analysis”would be done regarding future memberships in the upcoming months.

“For DePaul,” said Ponsetto, “it was about the opportunity that was before us to forge ahead with something new that we thought was going to be really positive.”