Big East: How Creighton made it to the big time - Omaha.com
Published Monday, July 1, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 5:28 pm
'Creighton belongs with us'
Big East: How Creighton made it to the big time
Book coming this fall
Creighton's entry into the Big East is the culmination of nearly a century of Bluejay basketball ambitions.

From the start the school's coaches, players and fans had the idea that their basketball program was destined to break through to the “big time.”

The World-Herald's Steven Pivovar, in a book to be available this fall, will tell the story of how Creighton's hoop dreams — from Bob Gibson and Paul Silas to Kyle Korver and Doug McDermott — finally came true with the move to the Big East.

In a well-appointed meeting room on Marquette University's campus, the school's president on Dec. 5 huddled with his board of directors and told of the seismic changes coming in athletics.

Long frustrated that the Big East Conference had become consumed with football, Marquette and six other Catholic schools were quietly laying a plan to strike out on their own, wanting to get back to the league's basketball roots. It was all moving quickly, the Rev. Scott Pilarz told the board — in fact the schools would announce their plans to the world just 10 days later.

Sitting at the table in Milwaukee that morning, taking in Pilarz's words with particular interest, was the president of Creighton University. In addition to leading the Omaha campus, the Rev. Timothy Lannon serves on the board of Marquette, a sister Jesuit institution.

And though even Lannon would have acknowledged at that moment he considered Creighton a long shot to join the new league, he wasted no time angling for just that.

“Creighton is really interested in being part of this new conference,” Lannon told Pilarz in a private moment later that day.

Lannon was a little surprised — and encouraged — by Pilarz's reaction: “Creighton belongs with us.”

It certainly wouldn't happen overnight. There would be many others for Creighton to win over.

But a little more than three months after the Milwaukee meeting, Lannon stood with the “Catholic 7” presidents in Manhattan at the formal unveiling of the new Big East. Creighton, arguably the definition of a college basketball “mid-major” program, had gone big time.

Creighton University on Monday officially becomes a member of the Big East Conference, a step up in prestige that will profoundly impact academics and athletics at the school for decades to come.

On the eve of the historic change, The World-Herald recently dug deeper into the back story of Creighton's move, the examination including the most extensive interviews to date with Lannon, Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen and other Big East officials. The narrative that emerged shed some light on a process that was often as shrouded in secrecy as the selection of a pope. Consider:

CREIGHTON-BIG EAST TIMELINE


Summer 2012

Some Big East Conference Catholic school presidents begin talking seriously about splitting from league's football schools

Oct. 14-15

Having heard the buzz, Creighton University President Timothy Lannon expresses interest in joining new league to Marquette president during conference of Jesuit schools in Chicago

Dec. 5

Attending Marquette board meeting, Lannon learns new Big East will become reality and that Creighton is on list of candidates

Dec. 15

Presidents of Catholic 7 — Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul — formally announce intention to leave Big East

December-January

Lannon engages in low-key lobbying effort and forms campus task force to look into possible move

Feb. 1

Lannon sends Catholic 7 presidents fact sheet touting Creighton basketball success and athletic facilities

Feb. 27

Big East legal counsel informs Lannon invitation possible, so Lannon now convinced bid likely

March 4

Creighton board of directors discusses league, with Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen walking through pros, cons

March 5

ESPN reports Creighton will be invited; Creighton still awaiting word

March 7

Creighton board's executive committee grants authority for Lannon to accept bid if extended

March 8

Creighton's men's basketball team starts quest for Missouri Valley Conference tournament title in St. Louis; Lannon excuses himself from meeting of conference presidents in which possible replacement of Creighton is on agenda

March 13

Catholic 7 presidents meet in New York and vote to add Butler, Xavier and Creighton; Lannon receives call from DePaul president officially extending invitation; CU executive committee acts on it that day

March 15

Lannon calls Valley Commissioner Doug Elgin to inform him of Creighton's departure. The World-Herald reports that school has decided to join Big East

March 20

Creighton is formally introduced with other Big East schools during media event in New York

July 1

Creighton officially becomes member of Big East Conference

» The decisions were driven by the presidents of the Catholic 7 schools, who in some cases didn't even keep their athletic directors fully in the loop. A marriage with a planned new Fox sports network helped the league quickly take shape. The focus then turned to what schools to add to bring the league to 10 universities.

» Rasmussen right to the end thought Creighton had little shot of making the Big East cut, believing the school was too far west. He became frustrated over the hundreds of hours of research Lannon asked the athletic department to conduct related to a possible move.

» The biggest concern for Creighton was what impact the conference change would have on the school financially, something school officials studied in great detail. Even looking at worst-case scenarios — with Creighton struggling at the bottom of the new league and basketball attendance falling — the bigger TV and NCAA tournament dollars still made the Big East a plus.

» While it was speculated Creighton had a Big East bid in hand in March when its fans flocked to St. Louis for the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament, Lannon knew only that it was a strong contender. It made for some awkward moments during “Arch Madness,” with Lannon at one point excusing himself from a meeting of the league's presidents.

» Lannon's connections with some of the Catholic 7 presidents no doubt helped Creighton grab the new conference's ear. But more than any lobbying effort, it was Creighton's academic profile, impressive athletic facilities and basketball success that impressed the other presidents. Those strengths helped Creighton best other contenders that fell more neatly within the Big East's geographic footprint.

In the end, it was “a match made in heaven,” Lannon quipped the day the league was announced — one that will have the likes of Georgetown, Villanova, Butler, DePaul and Marquette trekking to downtown Omaha annually to play the Jays.

It would have been almost unfathomable a decade ago. But it's certainly no fluke, Pilarz said recently. Creighton earned it. It wasn't as if the school had to hit some half-court prayer to win entry to the league.

“It was a slam dunk, really,” he said.

* * *

Playing in a late-November tournament in Las Vegas, Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays were on the kind of roll that would have been the envy of any gambler on the Strip.

With the first-team All-American forward logging 29 points on an array of moves in the post, runners and bombs from downtown, the Bluejays downed Arizona State 87-73 to claim the title in the Las Vegas Invitational tournament. The win improved the Jays to 6-0 on the new season and helped them climb to No. 11 in the national polls, among its highest rankings ever.

Creighton was building on a run of recent basketball success that was unprecedented in the school's proud athletic history: at least 20 wins in 13 of the previous 14 seasons. Only Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, Gonzaga and Florida could claim more consistent success in that time. Eight recent appearances in the NCAA Tournament. And six straight years in the top 25 in attendance, regularly topping iconic basketball schools like Kansas, Indiana and Connecticut.

The mid-major success story that started under then-Coach Dana Altman was still going strong under Coach Greg McDermott, Doug's father. Now as the team prepared to fly home with its Vegas title, it appeared that Bluejay basketball was set to soar to new heights.

But on that November night, it wasn't just on the court that big things were brewing for Creighton. Because unbeknownst to Coach McDermott or his team, three time zones away, the Big East Conference was on the verge of implosion.

Four days later, on Nov. 28, Louisville announced that it was leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference — the seventh school to bolt from the bedraggled league in a year. Now the Big East's seven Catholic schools — Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul — were quietly making plans of their own. They'd seen enough.

* * *

From its founding in 1979, the Big East was a basketball conference. Only a handful of its schools played Division I football, but they all took great pride in their hoops. The league quickly became one of the nation's best.

Georgetown won a national title in 1984, and in 1985 the Big East put three teams in the Final Four: Georgetown, St. John's and eventual champ Villanova. That's something no other conference has done.

In the 1990s the Big East started bringing in more football schools, most notably perennial national power Miami. The league was chasing the big football TV dollars that were becoming increasingly critical in college athletics. The Big East basketball-only schools at the time believed aligning themselves with schools that played both sports would provide them more stability.

But when the fight for those football bucks ushered in a flurry of conference realignments three years ago — the same wave that brought the University of Nebraska-Lincoln into the Big Ten — no conference suffered more than the Big East.

In 2011 the league lost Pittsburgh, West Virginia and, most painfully, Syracuse, one of its original signature basketball powers. “That loss was a real blow to us,'' Georgetown President John DeGioia said.

The departing schools were being replaced by the likes of San Diego State, Boise State, Houston and South Florida as the Big East struggled to stay relevant in football. Not only did such moves make a mockery of the eastern geography that gave the league its name, it significantly tarnished its basketball brand.

A major fault line cracked between the league's football schools and the seven Catholic schools where basketball was king. “The old Big East was increasingly driven and consumed by football,” Marquette's Pilarz said.

By last summer, some of the Catholic 7 presidents began talking about breaking away. The schools were coming to the conclusion that if they remained tied to the league's football schools, “it was not going to end well,” DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider said.

Then in late November Rutgers and Louisville announced they were leaving the Big East. “Things unfolded very quickly after Thanksgiving,'' DeGioia said.

November was also when ESPN's exclusive window to negotiate a TV deal with the Big East expired with no agreement. The Fox network swooped in and signaled its interest in the Catholic 7 schools.

Fox was launching a new sports channel it hoped would rival ESPN. The network figured a basketball league built around the powerful Big East Catholic schools would make for some good programming.

“It created possibility,” Pilarz said.

The size of the contract that would eventually be negotiated has never been disclosed. News reports have put the 12-year deal at roughly $5 million per school annually. Not exactly football-type dollars, which can approach $20 million for top schools like Nebraska, but a solid foundation for a new basketball league.

The universities made the announcement Dec. 15 in a joint statement: “Earlier today, we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established.”

There was much work left to do. They needed to negotiate their final separation from the football schools — including their ability to keep the Big East name, an important part of the basketball schools' heritage.

And they needed to find at least three other schools to join them to provide enough games to feed the network.

By the time of the Big East announcement, work was already underway in Omaha toward making Creighton one of them.

* * *

During the fall of 2012, Rasmussen and Lannon were picking up on the buzz coming out of the Big East. And while both were happy with the school's place in the Missouri Valley — Creighton's conference home since 1976 — they sensed opportunity.

Those who know the men say Creighton was lucky to have Lannon and Rasmussen driving the school's bid.

Rasmussen, in his fourth decade as a CU coach and administrator, was well respected in college basketball circles, having recently been named by his peers to the eight-member committee that chooses the field for the NCAA tournament.

Lannon, a 1973 Creighton graduate, in 2011 became the first alum to lead the school. Colleagues describe him as a smart, analytical thinker and an aggressive decision-maker.

When the presidents of the nation's 28 Jesuit universities gathered in Chicago in October 2012 for their annual conference, Lannon broached the Big East buzz over an after-dinner glass of wine with Pilarz, a fellow Jesuit priest and longtime friend.

“If this new league comes about,” Lannon told Pilarz, “Creighton would like to be part of the conversation.”

Then at the Marquette board meeting in early December, Lannon learned the new Big East was coming. But more than that, he learned Creighton already had the attention of the new league.

During lunch after the board session, Lannon found himself sitting next to Marquette Athletic Director Larry Williams. “You're on our list,” Williams told him.

Lannon and Rasmussen would huddle frequently in the following weeks, pondering how Creighton should respond. The first question to answer: If Creighton were to receive a Big East bid, should the school accept?

Everyone agreed it would propel Creighton's stature. And on the academic side, it was a no-brainer.

The schools were closely aligned academically: all private institutions with a spiritual mission. And for 10 straight years, Creighton has been ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Reports among Midwest regional universities, ahead of other conference candidates Butler and Xavier.

Big East membership could also give Creighton a more powerful national brand. Two-thirds of Creighton's student body comes from out of state. The Big East would open markets in New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and the Northeast, areas with large numbers of Catholic high school graduates interested in a Jesuit education.

On the athletic side, however, there were financial risks. The dollars generated by basketball help fund Creighton's athletic department, making the recent successes of the school's soccer, baseball, softball, women's basketball and volleyball teams possible.

The new league would bring larger revenue streams in television and NCAA tournament money, which is based on how many teams a conference gets into the tournament. Creighton, receiving about $300,000 in combined tournament and TV money from the Missouri Valley, could increase that nearly 20-fold in the new league.

But there would be big new expenses, too, including transportation. Creighton's teams in all sports would have to park their buses and fly to compete against conference foes.

The biggest wild card, though, was what playing in the new league might do to basketball attendance. Creighton was regularly drawing sell-out crowds of more than 17,000 fans. But if it joined the Big East and didn't enjoy the same kind of on-court success — hardly a far-fetched notion given the high-powered competition — would the fans still show up?

“People come to watch winners,” Rasmussen would later tell the school's board. “No matter how strong the conference is, someone has to finish seventh, eight, ninth and 10th.”

By January, Lannon had formed a working group of Rasmussen and several top aides and tasked them to find answers to these questions.

For his part, Rasmussen believed the questions were academic. From what he was hearing from his athletic director sources, he didn't believe Creighton had a realistic shot.

It seemed Butler and Xavier were locks for two of the three spots. They were successful basketball schools that fit neatly within the Big East geography.

Creighton, St. Louis University, Dayton, Connecticut, Gonzaga, Virginia Commonwealth, Cincinnati and Richmond were the schools most frequently mentioned in media reports as candidates for the 10th spot.

Among those contenders, Creighton and Gonzaga were geographic outliers. Creighton is some 1,400 miles from the easternmost Big East school and 500 miles from the closest. And if television was a major driver, nearly all were in bigger media markets — in some cases, several times larger.

It appeared to Rasmussen that even if the Big East went to 12 schools, Creighton was an outsider. He admits he became frustrated with all the time his department would devote to exploring all the hypothetical scenarios.

Lannon did not disagree with his athletic director's assessment. Still, both men early on reached the same conclusion: If a bid should come, Creighton would be crazy to turn it down.

Lannon and Rasmussen also discussed how Creighton should lobby for a position, eventually deciding on a low-key approach. Lannon made a round of calls to the Catholic 7 presidents just to make sure they were aware of Creighton's interest.

He phoned DePaul's Holtschneider, talking up the success of CU's basketball program and the energy of its fan base. The two men knew each other well, having gotten their doctorates together at Harvard.

Lannon was less familiar with other presidents. In fact, he was a little embarrassed to discover that the president of Seton Hall had a daughter who was a first-year medical student at Creighton. Shame on us for not knowing that, Lannon said. He checked to make sure she was doing OK.

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On Feb. 1, Lannon made a final, modest pitch, emailing each of the Catholic 7 presidents a three-page fact sheet.

“If the main goal of the new conference is to be the best basketball conference in the country, here is some data about the Creighton men's basketball program to consider.” The document detailed the school's long run of basketball success and a rundown on campus athletic facilities, which are among the finest in the country.

Weeks passed. The Washington Post, not citing its source, reported in mid-February it was unlikely Creighton would be invited because it was too far west. The report out of Washington was consistent with what the rumor mill had been suggesting for weeks: that Georgetown's DeGioia, a powerful player in the process, didn't support adding Creighton.

If true, it posed a major barrier. Trying to get into a conference can be like pledging a fraternity. It takes only one or two “no” votes to keep you out.

Lannon said he called DeGioia and asked the Georgetown president point-blank: “Are you supporting Creighton for admission to the Big East?”

As he had throughout the process, Lannon said, DeGioia didn't let on one way or the other.

DeGioia in a recent interview didn't recall that conversation with Lannon. He said he didn't know why there would have been talk of Georgetown opposing Creighton.

“… From the very beginning, Georgetown has been an enthusiastic supporter of Creighton, and we are pleased they are joining the Big East,'' he said.

While geography was a consideration, DeGioia said, it was not as important as commitment to athletes as students, a history of operating with integrity and commitment to play basketball at the highest level. On those core criteria, he said, it was clear Creighton would be an outstanding addition to the league.

In fact, once the Catholic 7 got to serious discussions about which schools to invite, some time in February, Creighton, Butler and Xavier quickly separated themselves, DeGioia said.

Two other Catholic 7 presidents also said they were high on Creighton from the start.

DePaul's Holtschneider said he was familiar with the school's commitment to top-notch athletics. He also lauded Lannon's leadership.

“This is a president's league, where the presidents make the decisions,” he said. “You want good partners.”

Marquette's Pilarz also advocated for Creighton, which he said “rose to the top of my list right away.” And if schools farther east were concerned about Creighton's geography, Pilarz said he never heard the talk directly.

At one point one of the presidents told Lannon he was overall hearing good things about Creighton. It was Lannon's first indication that the Catholic 7 as a whole was warm to Creighton. Maybe this wasn't such a long shot after all.

Then on Feb. 27, during an annual Washington breakfast on Capitol Hill hosted by Jesuit universities, DeGioia pulled Lannon aside. Joe Lecesse, an attorney who's working with us, is going to call you, DeGioia said.

The call later that day was one of the most unusual Lannon had ever received.

“I want to be very clear with you about this conversation,” Lannon recalled Lecesse saying. “It's not a conversation about you being invited to join the Big East.” But if Lannon would sign a confidentiality agreement, Lecesse said, there were some things they could talk about.

Lannon signed the agreement the next day, and Lecesse called again. He then explained to Lannon the legal structure of the new league and its financial arrangements.

Lecesse said he would send Lannon a copy of the league's terms, again making it clear this was not a formal invitation. In fact, schools that ultimately weren't invited were having the same conversation with Lecesse.

Near the end of the talk, Lannon shared with Lecesse his long-held presumption: that Creighton was not in the running for the first three spots in the new league but was rather a fallback if it went to 12.

“Not necessarily,” Lecesse replied.

The call ended. As Lecesse had said, it was not an invitation. But there was something about the tone of the conversations with league officials over those few days. As Lannon hung up, he now believed an invitation was forthcoming.

* * *

In front of some 6,000 fired-up Creighton fans who had helped paint the Scottrade Center in St. Louis blue, the top-seeded Creighton Bluejays on March 8 launched a quest for what would become their 12th — and last — Missouri Valley tournament championship.

Near the end of the Bluejays' opening victory over Drake, an ESPN reporter sent the word out over Twitter: Creighton has withdrawn from the Missouri Valley.

The tweet was wrong and later corrected. But it likely had its roots in an unusual meeting held earlier that day.

The conference presidents were gathering, putting Lannon in a tricky spot. As chairman of the council of Missouri Valley presidents, Lannon was to preside over the meeting. On the agenda: What should the league do if Creighton or anyone else departs?

“Oh, my Lord,” Lannon thought. Arch Madness, indeed.

Lannon spoke with MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin and then hatched a plan. Lannon brought the meeting to order. And then he excused himself.

Throughout recent weeks, Lannon and Rasmussen had tried to keep Elgin in the loop on Creighton's plans. Lannon said he told Elgin that Creighton had not been invited but was the subject of considerable talk. Rasmussen repeatedly shared with Elgin his sincere belief that Creighton's chances of leaving were essentially nil.

“I know the rumors are out there,” Rasmussen told Elgin in St. Louis that weekend. “But it's a long shot — a very long shot.”

Everyone in St. Louis was talking about Creighton. ESPN had reported Creighton would be invited to the Big East. When pressed, Lannon would say only that Creighton had not received an invitation. He otherwise kept to the confidentiality agreement.

In truth, things had progressed in the eight days since Lannon spoke to Lecesse. The school's attorneys were going over every word of the Big East's proposed terms. And just the previous day, the executive committee of Creighton's board had voted unanimously: If the Big East did officially extend an invitation, Lannon was authorized to accept it.

Lannon and Rasmussen days earlier had briefed the full board on what was happening. The board includes some of Omaha's top businessmen, and they had one bottom line: Would this work financially?

Rasmussen took them through his staff's work, which by necessity was fraught with assumptions. The travel was manageable cost-wise and would not lead to more missed class time for student-athletes. It takes less time to fly to New York than to bus to Carbondale, Ill., or Terre Haute, Ind.

They ran models of what basketball revenues would look like under various levels of success. In the end, the increased TV and NCAA revenue made up for any possible losses at the gate. Under best-case scenarios, the Big East would be a financial windfall.

By the end of the meeting, the room was charged with excitement about the possibilities.

* * *

On March 13 Lannon went through the day on pins and needles. He knew the Catholic 7 presidents were quietly gathering in New York at the Times Square office of Lecesse's law firm.

Lannon was meeting on campus with his council of vice presidents and deans in the Skutt Student Center when his cellphone went off. Normally he would have ignored it. But given the circumstances, he pulled the phone from his belt and saw the name on the caller ID: Dennis Holtschneider.

Lannon dashed from the room to take the call. As he suspected, the DePaul president was making it official: The Big East was coming to Nebraska.

“Tim, I'm thrilled to tell you I'm calling officially on behalf of the conference,” Holtschneider said. ''We'd like to offer Creighton membership.”

Lannon was ecstatic, repeatedly thanking his old friend.

Lannon called Rasmussen, and for the first time the athletic director allowed himself to believe this was going to happen. Both men were hopeful that in 10 years, people would be able to look back and say this day was a key point in the history of Creighton.

A week later, Lannon huddled in the green room of a Fox network studio in New York with the other nine presidents of the new Big East. They chatted for almost an hour, and it all felt so natural. This seemed to be a good fit.

During the media question-and-answer session that followed the league's televised announcement, a reporter asked a question that included a snarky comment about Omaha. The Rev. Brian Shanley, the president of Providence, quickly stepped in, going on and on about what a great city Omaha was and about Creighton's terrific sports venues.

In fact, it seemed all the Catholic 7's leaders were in agreement: Creighton belonged in the Big East.

“They have built a program that has earned its way,” Holtschneider said. “We're very happy to have them.”


BIG EAST


CREIGHTON UNIVERSITY

Location: Omaha
Mascot: Bluejays
Colors: Blue and white
Enrollment: 7,730
Top academic programs*: Health professions, business, management, sciences, communication
Recent conference affiliations: Missouri Valley (1976-present)
Basketball history: 17 NCAA tournament appearances
School profile: The Jesuit fixture near downtown Omaha has grown up a lot in the past two decades, expanding facilities and regularly topping U.S. News & World Reports' list of top Midwest universities, with a strong, student-centered reputation. But the move to the Big East is a big step up in exposure and prestige.

BUTLER UNIVERSITY

Location: Indianapolis
Mascot: Bulldogs
Colors: Navy and white
Enrollment: 4,626
Top academic programs: Business, education, visual and performing arts, communication/journalism, health professions
Recent conference affiliations: Horizon League (1993-2012), Atlantic 10 (2012-present)
Basketball history: 11 NCAA tournament appearances; two Final Fours; 2010 and 2011 NCAA runner-up
School profile: The only non-Catholic school in new Big East was founded by Christians in 1855. Its biggest basketball claim to fame had been Hinkle Fieldhouse, a 1920s-era gym featured in the movie “Hoosiers.” But that was before trips to the NCAA finals in 2010 and 2011, with the Bulldogs missing the 2010 title when a half-court buzzer-beater bounced off the rim.

DePAUL UNIVERSITY

Location: Chicago
Mascot: Blue Demons
Colors: Royal blue and scarlet
Enrollment: 25,398
Top academic programs: Business, communications, liberal arts and sciences, social sciences, computer and information
Recent conference affiliations: Great Midwest Conference (1991-1995), Conference USA (1995-2005), Big East (2005-present)
Basketball highlights: 22 NCAA tournament appearances; two Final Four appearances
School profile: The nation's largest Catholic university is set in the heart of Chicago, with campuses in Lincoln Park and the Loop. While DePaul was a regular tourney qualifier from 1976 to 1992, the basketball team has landed just two bids since.

GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Location: Washington, D.C.
Mascot: Hoyas
Colors: Blue and gray
Enrollment: 17,130
Top academic programs: Business, law, medicine, public policy
Recent conference affiliations: Founding member of Big East (1979)
Basketball highlights: 28 NCAA tournament appearances; five Final Fours; 1984 NCAA champion
School profile: The Jesuit school's location in the nation's capital helps it attract students drawn to politics, policy and power. Coach John Thompson built a basketball powerhouse during the 1980s, a legacy now continued by his son, John Thompson III.

MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY

Location: Milwaukee
Mascot: Golden Eagles
Colors: Blue and gold
Enrollment: 12,002
Top academic programs: Business, communications, engineering, health professions, social studies
Recent conference affiliations: Horizon (1988-1991), Great Midwest (1991-1995), Conference USA (1995-2005), Big East (2005-present)
Basketball highlights: 30 NCAA tournament appearances; three Final Four appearances; 1977 NCAA champion
School profile: A Jesuit university in an urban setting. Its storied basketball program has seen a recent revival. Its 15,000 fans per game made it the Big East attendance leader — a title it now yields to Creighton (17,000-plus).

PROVIDENCE COLLEGE

Location: Providence, R.I.
Mascot: Friars
Colors: Black and white
Enrollment: 4,769
Top academic programs: Business, social studies, biological sciences, education, English and literature
Recent conference affiliations: Founding member of Big East (1979)
Basketball highlights: 15 NCAA tournament appearances; two Final Fours
School profile: The Catholic college was co-founded in 1917 by an order of Dominican friars, hence its sports teams' nickname. Its solid NCAA tourney history was highlighted by a 1987 trip to the Final Four under up-and-coming young coach Rick Pitino.

ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY

Location: New York City
Mascot: Red Storm
Colors: Red and white
Enrollment: 21,067
Top academic programs: Business, communications, biological sciences, education, health professions
Recent conference affiliations: Founding member of Big East (1979)
Basketball highlights: 28 NCAA tournament appearances; two Final Fours
School profile: Founded in 1868. The main campus is in Queens and there are satellite campuses in Manhattan and on Staten Island and Long Island. It ranks seventh all-time in college basketball wins, but has made only one tourney appearance in the past decade.

SETON HALL UNIVERSITY

Location: South Orange, N.J.
Mascot: Pirates
Colors: Blue and white
Enrollment: 9,656
Top academic programs: Nursing, finance, biology, criminal justice, humanities
Recent conference affiliations: Founding member of Big East (1979)
Basketball highlights: Nine NCAA tournament appearances; one Final Four
School profile: Founded in 1856 by the local archbishop, it's the oldest diocesan university in the country. While yet to hit double digits in NCAA bids, it enjoyed a great five-year run of success under P.J. Carlesimo beginning in 1989, including four Big East titles and an overtime loss to Michigan in the 1989 NCAA final.

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY

Location: Villanova, Pa.
Mascot: Will D. Cat
Colors: Blue and white
Enrollment: 10,661
Top academic programs: Business, engineering, health professions, social sciences, communications
Recent conference affiliations: Atlantic 10 (1975-80); Big East (1980-present)
Basketball highlights: 32 NCAA tournament appearances; four Final Fours; 1985 NCAA champion
School profile: Founded by an Augustinian order in 1842 in an upscale Philadelphia suburb. A regular tourney qualifier for a half century, it claims more sustained hoops success than any other Big East school. It pulled off one of the biggest stunners in Final Four history as a No. 8 seed playing a near-perfect game to beat Patrick Ewing and defending champ Georgetown in the 1985 final.

XAVIER UNIVERSITY

Location: Cincinnati
Mascot: Musketeers
Colors: Blue and silver
Enrollment: 6,945
Top academic programs: Business, liberal arts, social sciences, health professions, biological sciences
Recent conference affiliations: Horizon League (1979-1995); Atlantic 10 (1995-present)
Basketball highlights: 23 NCAA tournament appearances
School profile: Traces its founding to when Ohio was part of the Northwest Territory in 1831. Jesuit, mid-size and urban, it has much in common with Creighton. The schools also share similar hoops history: The frequent tourney qualifiers have never made a Final Four — the only two schools in the new Big East that haven't.

* Most popular majors for 2011 graduates. Source: U.S. News & World Reports' College Campus Best Colleges report

Contact the writer: Henry J. Cordes

henry.cordes@owh.com    |   402-444-1130    |  

Henry's a general assignment reporter, so he could end up writing just about anything, though he usually focuses on public policy matters affecting the state, region or nation.

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Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
Richard Brown steps down as Charles Drew Health Center CEO
OPD safety expo set for April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
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COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
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