The conference shuffling continues. Earlier this fall, Texas A&M announced it was withdrawing itself from the Big 12, where they eventually wound up applying for admission to the SEC. That started a seismic shift that traveled all the way to Pennsylvania and New York—where longtime Big East members Pitt and Syracuse officially joined the Atlantic Coast Conference on Sunday morning.
On a Sunday morning teleconference, Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, athletic director Steve Pederson and ACC Commissioner John Swafford were more than enthusiastic about the move. What is unclear at this time is when Pitt will officially be able to begin competing in the ACC. Pitt must pay an exit fee from the Big East—a fee that is expected to be in the neighborhood of $5 million dollars. That pales in comparsion to an exit fee from the ACC. According to ACC by-laws, an exit fee would be the equivalent of 125 percent of annual revenue. Swofford said that number would typically range in the area of $20 million.
Chancellor Nordenberg was quick to point out many academic ties that Pitt shares with several ACC schools.
"Wake Forest and Pitt are national leaders in tissue engineering," Nordenberg said. "Virginia Tech and Pitt are partners in major national energy. Pitt and Duke are two of the world's leaders in biomedical research. The dean of the medical school at Virginia is a former chairman (at Pitt) of neurology."
Though no one would discuss when the earliest possibility would be for Pitt and Syracuse to start competing in the ACC, there are a couple of factors hinging on this. Now that it's known that both schools will be leaving the Big East, it's a matter of the standard they'll be held to. They'll obviously have to pay that exit fee. Big East by-laws require a 27-month notice.
Pitt was on the opposite side of this fence just eight years ago when Big East members Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College all bolted for the ACC. This time—in a less publicized, and more hushed type of move—Pitt and Syracuse have decided to pursue this new avenue. It's a move that Nordenberg feels he made very clear to Big East administrators. Though no one would comment at exactly when Pitt and Syracuse sought for membership in the Big East, Nordenberg did say that keeping an eye open to certain conferences is something he's been doing for the last year and a half.
"We did make it clear with the Big East, we were going to improve the conference as we asked," Nordenberg said. "We made it very clear if other opportunities did arise, we would feel as if we were obligated to seriously assess them. I made that point clear in writing both to the commissioner of the Big East, and the chair of the conference in May of 2010. They appreciated the care I had taken to articulate that position for them."
Initiative would be the key word in a lot of this. Obviously, Pitt and Syracuse took the initiative to seek membership with the ‘changing landscape' of intercollegiate athletics. ACC commissioner John Swofford said from his standpoint—like the individual schools have to seek out better opportunities—he as a commissioner has to seek out the best ways for improving that conference. If it means expanding, he too has to be proactive in his own regard.
"We just felt that right now this was in our best interest," Swofford said. "I don't think it's a reaction to (other conferences looking to expand). In a subtle way, when you look at the movement in the Pac 12, the Big Ten expanding, the SEC expanding; all of that comes into play. Our interest is always focused on what is best for us. Every conference has its uniqueness."
We might not know the exact season yet, of when Pitt would start competing in the ACC. Swofford did add that discussions about which of the two divisions that Syracuse and Pitt would be added into. Currently, Wake Forest, Maryland, Clemson, Florida State, N.C. State and Boston College are in the Atlantic Division. North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Miami are in the Coastal Division.
"We've had some discussion about (divisions), but we will need to have further discussion on that," Swofford added. "We will need to have Pitt and Syracuse in that full discussion."
said additionally that one of those challenges—aside from placing both teams into one of those divisions, will be the realigning of working out a football schedule that includes 14 teams.
TV revenue is going to be one of the major factors with the addition of these two schools. Under the current TV deal with ESPN, which goes through 2013, the Big East was waiting to see how this conference shakeup would go before re-working a new deal. Nordenberg—though he didn't say it was the ultimate deciding factor—made reference to the more soluble TV deal the Pac-12 got, in just its first year of existence with the additions of Utah and Colorado.
"Any characterization that Steve (Pederson) or I led a charge against consummating a contract with ESPN is also inaccurate," Nordenberg added. "The question was put to (Big East commissioner) John Marinatto. In fact, we were the most constructive participants working through what seemed to be preventing us from getting financial consideration. In the end, when the conference chose not to accept the ESPN offer, it was unanimous. It was not led by us or anyone else. It was a reflection of new realities embodied in the contracts won by the Pac 10."
If TV revenue is indeed a factor for Pitt, consider the fact that ESPN—who has already renegotiated a TV deal for all ACC broadcasting rights for football and basketball—is open to renegotiating further with the additions of Pitt and Syracuse.
"(The contract) does allow us to do (renegotiate), by expanding by two schools," Swofford added. "We have the opportunity to do that with the current rights with ESPN. It doesn't allow us to go to the streets (to pursue a competing netword), but it does allow us to renegotiate with ESPN, and we're confident that will have a positive impact."
In the end, both Nordenberg and Pederson said it was a tough decision based on their long history in the Big East. Both feel confident this is the best move for Pitt, going forward.
"We're leaving behind good friendships in the Big East," Nordenberg commented.
"It's a great partnership moving into the future," Pederson said. "They strive to give every athletic directors and coach they need for their programs to achieve their goals and dreams. For student-athletes, that means academics. The ACC is a perfect home to achieve that at the highest level."