CINCINNATI - By joining the reconfigured Big East Wednesday, Xavier University shed the mid-major label once and for all and entered one of college basketball's premier conferences.
"It's an endorsement of who we are and how we've gotten here, as well as where we can go next," Xavier president Michael J. Graham, S.J. , said in a statement.
Along with its new stature comes new riches – a conference TV contract that should bring Xavier $5 million per year. Plus, the Big East provides additional exposure and a big boost for Xavier admissions, alumni and fundraising efforts across the nation, the university said.
"So it's not just about athletics, it's about the whole institution and about the institution at its heart, which is an academic place," Graham said.
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Butler and Creighton are also joining the basketball-centric, non-football conference of 10 private schools, which includes holdovers DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova. Those so-called Catholic 7 split off from the previous Big East to form the new league. Butler is the lone non-Catholic school among the 10.
Presidents of the new Big East schools, including Graham, gathered in New York Wednesday to make the announcement.
FOX Sports and its new FOX Sports 1 Network acquired television rights to all Big East men's basketball game action as part of a 12-year contract.
The new Big East Conference will officially begin operations on July 1. Each of the inaugural members will be full conference participants starting in the 2013-2014 academic year. Each school will compete in all of the sports it offers today. The Big East Tournament will continue to call Madison Square Garden its home, and the new conference will assume an existing lease agreement that extends to 2026.
"This is a thrilling moment in the lives of us all," Graham said in a videotaped message to the Xavier community.
Xavier basketball coaches Chris Mack and Amy Waugh and outgoing athletic director Mike Bobinski shared Graham's excitement.
"What an incredible day for Xavier University, Xavier athletics, and in particular, Xavier basketball," said Mack. "While this is so much about moving forward, I would remiss if I didn't mention Father Hoff (previous Xavier president), Sister Rose Ann Fleming (faculty athletics representative), Mike Bobinski (outgoing athletic director), Ralph Lee, Byron Larkin, Tu Holloway and all the players over the years who allowed us to become part of this incredible conference.
"It's going to be the hardest challenge Xavier has ever faced," Mack said, "and from the players' reaction last night, I'm confident we're up to the challenge."
"It should definitely help with recruiting," Waugh said. "Everyone's excited. It's a step up in every aspect of college athletics."
Graham praised Bobinski for paving the way for Xavier's membership in the Big East. Bobinski is leaving at the end of the week to become athletic director at Georgia Tech.
"This is the coolest day and one we've been talking about and thinking about for years," Bobinski said. "Thanks to Father Hoff and my predecessor, Jeff Fogelson, who moved us into the Atlantic 10, I was fortunate to be the right guy in the right place at the right time.
"I'm so excited about what the future holds for Xavier. To win in this conference, we've got to redouble our efforts and be the best Xavier we can be."
Amid the recent sweeping and chaotic changes to the conference landscape, Bobinski said the new Big East is a perfect home for Xavier and "it's a long-term home as far as we can see."
"This (the new Big East) is the one thing that's happened in college sports in the last 18 months that's made sense," Bobinski said. "We're in a conference with schools with the same academic vision and an emphasis on the student athlete."
With a long line of success in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Xavier has earned its place at the table with the likes of former NCAA champions Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. In the past 10 years, the Musketeers made the Elite Eight twice and the Sweet 16 three other times in eight NCAA appearances.
Xavier's men's basketball team has dominated the mid-major Atlantic 10, winning at least a share of the regular-season title for five straight years until this season. The Musketeers finished 17-14 in a rebuilding year and ended their string of seven straight NCAA appearances.
The Xavier women's basketball program has made two NCAA Elite Eight appearances since 2001 and has made five of the last seven NCAA Tournaments. Men's soccer advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament this past fall.
"It's great," Xavier soccer player Matt Walker said about the new conference. "There's going to be a boatload of new teams across all programs from men's basketball to men's soccer to women's soccer, and it's just a bigger conference for us
to spread into and make a mark.
"I think we'll be more focused next year. I think the entire university will. Just to start off right in the new conference, I know our team specifically we're going to work hard and train hard and want to do well. We're going to compete - definitely," Walker said.
Women's soccer player Bridget Tully added: "Playing with better competition, I think, will only up our level of play and the competitiveness of the team. I'm very excited about it."
In a statement, Xavier said:
"Xavier, which is ranked 11th in the nation in the latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate report at 97 percent, is excited to align itself with private schools that share a like commitment to academics and athletics. Xavier had 14 XU programs at 100 percent in the latest NCAA GSR report. In men's basketball, XU has graduated each of the last 88 players that have played as seniors, a streak which dates back to 1986."
Xavier has been a member of the Atlantic 10 Conference for 18 years, beginning with the 1995-96 school year. Xavier played in the Midwestern City Conference (now known as the Horizon League) from 1979-80 through 1994-95. For a brief three-year period, 1983-86, Xavier's women's sports competed in the North Star Conference.
FOX Sports says it gets television rights to all Big East conference-controlled men's basketball games, select rights to women's basketball, all Olympic sports and extensive rights for highlights and to produce ancillary programming. FOX Sports 1 is scheduled to launch this summer.