State Of The Progam: Conference Alignment

Steve Pederson catches us up to speed on the ACC, and the various scenarios that Pitt is facing in regards to its immediate future.

The big news surrounding the Big East on Wednesday was the conference inducting Memphis as another football member. The Tigers will be set to compete in football starting in 2013.

Then there's Pitt, West Virginia and Syracuse—all three waiting to see what the next move is going to be with the conference. Last week, the ACC announced its conference format for when Pitt and Syracuse move in. Pitt joins the ACC Coastal Division, where they will compete regularly with North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Miami. Pitt will play those schools annually in football, and play both schools—home-and-away—in basketball. The biggest impact, is knowing that Pitt will host schools like North Carolina and Duke every year for basketball, as well as traveling to the Dean Smith Center and Cameron Indoor Stadium every year.

Just knowing that fact, is what Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson says is most exciting.

"It's kind of exciting to see the division of where this is going," Pederson said. "I think that was important for all of us. When you're in this kind of odd situation where you're still in this (Big East) conference, on your way to another conference, you're anxious. You haven't put the pieces in place, now. You're saying, ‘here's how we're going to play, here's what's going to happen, here's how the divisions are going to shake out.'

"Now we're talking about what kind of games will be played at Heinz Field. People will ask, ‘are Duke and Carolina going to come in here for basketball. All those kinds of things we can now answer, and kind of get moving with the future."

One other exciting aspect, is representing Pitt in front of a new set of peers, and meeting with a new set of schools. Though Pederson didn't say one was better than the other, you get a sense that the ACC is more organized than what's been going on in the Big East.

"I thought (the meetings) were very enjoyable; to be a part of that," Pederson said. "The meetings are very well-run, very well-organized. (ACC Commisioner) John Swofford does a tremendous job. His staff does a tremendous job. We accomplished a lot of things. Actually, at that meeting, we approved scheduling for all the sports going forward. All these sports, and they've done a good job with these scheduling formats; one of them going forward is that the coaches know how they're going to be configured in the new conference. I know our coaches were excited to know that, and get going and recruiting to it. There's probably a little more substance to what they're talking about."

Furthermore, the schools involved sound more sure of themselves, and more interested in doing what's best for the conference—which in turn seems to benefit its members all the more.

"I think the institutions of the ACC are really on the same page," Pederson added. "It's very interesting; very like institutions, so many commonalities that it makes it easy to reach decisions. Everybody is kind of working towards the same thing. The other thing I really like is everybody makes decisions on what's best for the ACC. I think that's really how a conference functions best—when everybody is saying, ‘as a group of 14, what's the best for us?' That may mean that you don't get your first choice of everything, or the scheduling isn't exactly what you hoped for for your institution, but long-term it's better for everybody. I really sensed that everybody was pushing towards the same thing. That's been my perception of the ACC.

"When you're in the room with them, it becomes a reality. Good people around the room, smart people around the room. It was easy to get a lot a lot accomplished in a short period of time. We were in meetings for long days, but they went fast. Everything was moving quickly."

Then, there's the uncertainty, which is the main stage of where everything is at right now. While the Big East is busy securing future members—adding Memphis on Wednesday—there's a lot of unknowns. The biggest one is the 2012 football season, and the 2012-13 athletic calendar for that matter. Throw in other factors such as TCU bolting for the Big 12, and the possibility of West Virginia leaving for the Big 12 to compete there in 2012. It's set off a lot of uncertainty, and until any of that is resolved, no one can really do anything. One thing that is for sure, is that the ACC is ready for Pitt and Syracuse. They showed that by setting up the conference and scheduling for the two new additions.

"I think what they've said is that they'd take us whenever they can get us, and they'll be ready for us," Pederson added. "They haven't made any final decisions until they know what all is happening, starting with the (2012) season."

Again, as for when it will go into effect, Pitt is playing the waiting game.

"What we've said is that we're not going to close any doors yet because we just don't know what the future holds," Pederson said. "Everybody seems to continue to move. I think right about now, the Big East is announcing that Memphis is coming in, and they have their 12 teams now for football. They've reconfigured and are moving forward, which is good. The sooner everybody goes to where they're supposed to be going, it would be better. The quicker we can get there, the better, just for everybody."

Time is of the essence at this point. TCU was seemingly let go of any obligations to the Big East. West Virginia is pursuing its exit very aggressively. Pitt is being forced to play a wait-and-see type of scenario. It's already put Pitt in a bind. Pitt was set to have a home-and-home series with Central Florida, that they had to buy out of with the addition of TCU. TCU bolted, not only leaving that 2012 TCU game open, but also leaving a Central Florida game open that Pitt could really use now.

"That's the situation we find ourselves in," Pederson added. "The decision that the Big East made—as I've said before—without consulting us and discussing any ramifications and letting TCU go without any waiting period, it really threw everything into a state of flux. Here we were, we made plans, TCU was coming here this year. I didn't like doing it because we went and bought ourselves out of a game with Central Florida. The Central Florida people were very nice and understanding, and I explained the situation (making room for TCU on the schedule). Coach O'Leary and the people there were really good about saying, ‘we're okay with it.' It probably wasn't great in their mind. We bought our way out of that and make room for TCU, and all of a sudden, (TCU) is gone. Now, we're working diligently to fix a hole in the schedule, and I hope we're able to do that shortly."

Pitt may also be in a bind to a new home opponent to replace West Virginia, not to mention all the television revenue Pitt would likely miss out on from not having that game—which always seems to draw a nationally-televised assignment. While there's still a domino effect in place that could really make things interesting, Pitt has already seen a domino effect—losing out on the Central Florida series, a conference opponent in TCU, and now the possibility of losing TCU.

Currently, Pitt has five home games on its 2012 slate. That's if Pitt plays in the Big East this season. As if things couldn't get any more messy, Pitt faces the uncertainty of getting another 2012 home game. Things could sort themselves out if Pitt is able to move into the ACC. At the same time, they're unable to add another non-conference opponent not knowing which conference they're going to be in. If they're in the ACC, the nine conference games plus three scheduled non-conference games with Youngstown State, Buffalo and Notre Dame—there would be no worries. Unfortunately, there are worries—solely by the fact that they're currently in the Big East, locked in with seven conference games, three non-conference games and the need to replace the TCU game. That's assuming West Virginia stays in the conference for 2012.

Waiting for the West Virginia decision seems to be most key at this point. If West Virginia is able to join the Big 12, it would seemingly make things easier for everyone involved to have Pitt and Syracuse join the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, and Pitt has to stay in the Big East, at least they know for sure they can pursue that sixth home game. The likely scenario there would be adding an FCS opponent. Then again, because of the conference reshuffling going on all over the country, a lot of other schools are waiting to see the same thing.

"If another hole is created (by West Virginia joining the Big 12), there's a lot of issues," Pederson said. "We have to keep our eyes open and monitor this. At some point, you run out of (teams). Who else can you play? Everybody's stuck on home games. We would only have five home games. We have to have six home games. We have to have that last game at home. There's probably a lot of schools that are saying the same thing. That's where the rub comes, a little bit. We have an oddity because we have this eight-game (Big East schedule), and then we had a six-game. That's just the way this schedule all worked. I had to try to piece this together when I first got here. It just wasn't structured evenly. Now, we have this Utah game came in opposite years of when you'd like it to be. It's a little bit skewed in our scheduling. Here we are, just six home games now. We have to find a solution that makes sense."

One possible solution would be Florida State. The Seminoles had an agreement with West Virginia for a game this September, but the Mountaineers cancelled it—in hopes they would be in the Big 12 this fall. It would be a good scenario for both Pitt and Florida State, but the Seminoles—like Pitt—need a home game as well. Not to mention, if both schools agree on it, both could be fellow conference members soon after. Pederson briefly discussed things with his Florida State counterpart at the ACC meetings last week.

"When (Florida State AD Randy Stetman) found out this was probably what was going to happen, they're looking for a home game as well," Pederson said. "Of course, we don't have another hole yet. We don't have a second hole yet. That's the other oddity. You're sitting here, and you don't know if you have a hole on your schedule or not."

Another factor, is that while the Big East polls and accepts new members for football, Pitt awaits being held hostage in regards to putting out schedules and ticket plans together for the 2012 season. The start of spring football is a little over a month away, and Pitt would like to at least inform its fans of any season ticket plans. Part of that includes a schedule, so fans—especially the many that travel from out of town—can start making plans.

"We need to start telling our fans what's going on," Pederson said. "We're probably going to have to, at some point, maybe with our season ticket holders, before we know who we're going to play in every instant."

There's no set dollar amount on what this could all cost Pitt, but when you factor in a buyout of the Central Florida series, a possible lack of West Virginia on the schedule, and no ability to promote a season ticket plan—that of course brings in ticket revenue—there's a lot of dollars at stake. Even with all this, there's been no word from the Big East on if they'll compensate Pitt for the situation they've been put into.

"There haven't been those conversations yet," Pederson said. "We were operating in good faith as a member of the league to try to make things happen. That's one of the things that happened—it didn't seem like everyone had (non-conference) games. We were waiting so long to get our schedule because some teams didn't have games, and they weren't working at it very aggressively. We were working at it. We were getting ourselves set up. To some extent, we were doing what we were supposed to do. We were getting our five games, getting them on the schedule, so that we didn't get them so late in the year. It kind of backfired on us a little bit by having the situation that we had. I guess with TCU leaving, we'd still have a hole in the schedule. I think we're close to fixing that one. I'm hopeful on that, and we'll see where it goes from there."

And, if Pitt is able to just go to the ACC?

"We would be okay," Pederson said. "If things happen in a faster setting, I think the ACC has figured out a way to accommodate that."

Now, West Virginia could reach a settlement with its pending lawsuit with the Big East. It's been a pretty aggressive, and much publicized stance on the part of the Mountaineers. Could Pitt pursue a similar plan of action? Pederson didn't say they would, but also didn't rule it out.

"We're really trying to do this the best possible way we can," Pederson said. "We've tried to be considerate of everybody as we've tried to go through this. We haven't had that kind of discussion about just leaving regardless. We're going to keep see what's happening here.

"The world's much different than it was the day we announced we were going to the ACC. All of a sudden, two schools have left—one just left and the other is indicating they're going to leave. You're trying to evaluate where you're going to be in the future and where the other conference is going into the future; try to make a reasonable decision. You have to protect the interests of this institution to going forward. That's why it's a little different than it was the day we announced we were going to the ACC. Even at that point, we were hopeful there was a way to get out of this sooner. The longer it drags out, the more it's not good for anybody."

Aside from all the scheduling uncertainties, and wait-and-see that's going on, Pederson did say there's going to be an emphasis on continuing its series with Notre Dame, and possibly adding on to its series with Penn State that was renewed back in June. It's just another ringing endorsement for the ACC. Pitt will have its nine conference games—all attractive opponents. If the Panthers are able to lock up annual series with two big names like Penn State and Notre Dame, they'd have only one non-conference game to worry about.

For now, there have been no talks about adding on to that Penn State series. The main reason, being another side effect of the uncertainty of everything going on. Another part of it would be of some scheduling alliances that Penn State already has in place.

"We didn't know until last Friday that we were going to play nine conference games," Pederson said. "Now that we kind of know what the future holds, we can start to look at what the future holds. There weren't a lot of deals getting done in the last nine months for future schedules because everybody was waiting to see what might hold and what might happen.

"The Big Ten has a scheduling alliance with the Pac-12, and will probably impact some of their thinking. I think there's going to be a lot of sorting out. Other conferences are going to have to figure out if they stay at eight (conference) games or go to nine games. The Big 12 has already gone to nine games. The Pac 12 has gone to nine games. The SEC and the Big Ten are still at eight games. That could impact available games for people as well. That's why everyone has gone uphold a little bit and said, ‘lets not commit to something we might not be able to back out of later on.'"

As for an emphasis on getting Penn State on as a non-conference opponent, with less of an emphasis on West Virginia when they go to the Big 12?

"I think Pitt-Penn State is one of the great traditional games in college football history," Pederson said. "That's why we were so thrilled we were able to come up with the two game series to get this game back on the schedule, and begin to hopefully invigorate that a little bit. You have two great institutions, both in the same state, both in great conferences. There's just so many commonalities and such great history. That would be a tremendous game for us to play. That's why we've talked so much about the importance of at least trying to find a way to play that game if we possibly could. That's not a reflection on West Virginia. That's a reflection on the Penn State game. I feel we've had a long history with Notre Dame, a good institutional history with Notre Dame. If we continue to play them, we'd like to do that as well."

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