Phoenix staff reports
TULSA — What had been speculated for weeks became official on Tuesday when Tulsa officials announced the school had accepted an invitation to join the soon-to-be-renamed Big East Conference beginning in 2014.
“I have said that it is a motto of the university of what ever we do, we want to compete at the highest level,” TU President Steadman Upham said in a news conference announcing the acceptance. “I think the move to the Big East fulfills in part that motto, and we aim to be as competitive as we have been going forward.”
The Golden Hurricane, who joined Conference USA in 2005 after leaving the WAC, won last year's football championship in the league and recently won the women's basketball tournament title while hosting both hoops tourneys.
The renamed Big East will have 12 members in 2015 when Navy joins for football only. Among that group will be seven ex-Conference USA teams: Tulsa, Tulane, East Carolina, Central Florida, SMU, Houston and basketball power Memphis. The Big East holdovers are Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida and Temple.
Upham said the “final straw” in knowing the school had to take action was when Tulane left the conference in November, making it six schools over two years.
“At that time, we assembled our coaches and had a pretty frank conversation on which direction the university should go. I’m pleased that we were able to pull that out,” he said.
He credited the facility improvement at the school, TU’s academic reputation and recent success from its individual programs for helping gain the move.
The league must change names as the non-football catholic schools from the Big East decided last month to form its own conference and was allowed to take the league name with them.
Even with the similarity to C-USA in its new membership group,TU’s switch to the Big East is expected to result in a substantial revenue spike for the athletic department.
“We have had great television coverage in Conference USA,” Upham said. “A lot of it has been regional, and this takes us to national platforms, which will expand the reach and reputation of the university.”
In Conference USA, it is expected that TU’s 2012-13 media-rights payment will amount to about $1.5 million. In the Big East, which recently concluded negotiations with CBS and ESPN on new television contracts, the annual media-rights revenue should be in the $3.5 million-$4.5 million range annually, a source told the Tulsa World in January.
Tulsa must pay an exit fee to Conference USA believed to be $500,000. It prepares to leave C-USA after hiring Derrick Gragg as its new athletic director last week. He replaces Ross Parmley, who was fired amid gambling allegations.
Gragg spoke on the initial problem of having 11 schools in 2014 in terms of scheduling football games.
“Just being in the Mid American Conference with an odd number of football opponents, it is hard to schedule,” he said. “You always want to end up with an even number. As far as having schools in Florida and Texas, I think that is important as you are playing on larger stages and larger television markets across the country.
“Also, don’t forget Philadelphia, where Temple is, which I think is number four in the nation in regards to a television market. Also, Orlando is in the top 20. I think it is important for Navy to come in and make things even on both sides.”