Bill Raftery leaves ESPN for Fox; Villanova to visit Butler on New Year's Eve

Villanova will be part of the new Big East with nine other basketball-centric schools. (Matt Slocum/AP file photo)

Fox Sports announced Thursday that renowned college basketball analyst Bill Raftery has left ESPN for Fox Sports.

Raftery, who as you all know is a proud La Salle grad, will team up with Gus Johnson to form the lead announcing team on Fox Sports 1's Big East basketball coverage. That should make for some very exciting broadcasts.

"I was fortunate to work at ESPN since its inception, and I'll be forever grateful to all the talented, professional people who supported me along the way," Raftery said in a press release issued by Fox Sports. "I've been associated with the Big East conference since it began, and I feel the same excitement and anticipation now as I did way back then as the conference is re-born with Fox Sports. I'm really looking forward to being reunited with my former CBS partner, Gus Johnson, whose style I love."

As part of its release announcing the Raftery hire, Fox unveiled the schedule for its first day of Big East action. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast a five-game marathon on New Year's Eve, including a very big game for Villanova:

12:00 p.m.: St. John's at Xavier
2:30 p.m.: Seton Hall at Providence
5:00 p.m.: DePaul at Georgetown
7:30 p.m.: Villanova at Butler
10:00 p.m.: Marquette at Creighton

Fox also announced that it will start showing non-conference games on November 8, the first day of the college basketball season. Though it didn't announce any specific matchups, Fox did say that Johnson and Raftery would "likely" call a game on that date.

Raftery will continue to work for CBS calling regular season and NCAA Tournament games, as was the case under his deal with ESPN. He formed a great team with Sean McDonough and Jay Bilas calling action in the old Big East. But as that era is gone, now Raftery and the Big East get a chance to start anew.

ESPN conceded the point in a statement confirming Raftery's departure.

"We completely understand his interest in remaining associated with the core group of schools that he’s been part of for 30+ years," the statement said. "We wish him the absolute best in his next chapter and thank him for his incredible contributions to ESPN."

The new 10-team Big East signed a 12-year, $600 million deal with Fox Sports as part of its split from the American Athletic Conference. Fox has the rights to all Big East regular season games, as well as the entirety of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. That package will be a wintertime centerpiece of Fox Sports 1, Fox's new all-sports channel that launches August 17.

"I have had the privilege of knowing Bill and calling games with him for 20 years and I can't wait to sit courtside with him this November," Johnson said.

Not surprsingly, the reaction from everywhere has been tremendous. Here's a sampling of the best tweets I've seen: