Over the past eight months, the University of Pittsburgh has dragged their feet in making key decisions that majorly affect their sports programs. The football program, to be precise, suffered as Pitt AD Steve Pederson took his time in relieving Dave Wannstedt of his coaching duties, last season. Then the Panthers hired Mike Haywood at the end of the season, only to fire him two weeks later in response to allegations of a domestic dispute. Eventually, Pitt would hire Todd Graham in hopes that he would resurrect a once proud football program. Since Pitt waited so long to hire him, Graham lost time on his first recruiting class. Many wanted Steve Pederson fired because when it came to hiring coaches, Pitt delayed and nearly struck out.
When it came time for Pittsburgh to switch conferences, they hit a home run.
On Sunday, it was announced the Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange were leaving the Big East to join the ACC, one of the four "Superconferences" that will rule college football in the near future. Along with the likes of Duke, UNC and Maryland, the Panthers will be reunited with former Big East schools such as Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami. On Friday, rumors started to swirl that Syracuse and Pitt applied to join the ACC. Two days later, the Atlantic Coastal Conference accepted both schools to join their healthy conference.
And just like that, the Big East conference was put on life support. Many believe other Big East schools such as Rutgers and UConn will be next to join. For that reason alone, Pitt acted quickly when approached about the possibility of switching. Worse than being a middle of the road football team is playing in an illegitimate conference with minimal TV revenue. Had the Pitt Panthers waited as long to transition conferences as they did to hire a football coach, they might have been left in the dust, competing against Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida for a meaningless conference title.
While Pitt's future is exciting, not everyone is ecstatic about the move. Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, puzzled of Pitt's departure, said, "I don't understand it. How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you're affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy?"
That's easy Jack, because the reality of college football is caring more about yourself and how much revenue you can generate for your program than the integrity of college athletics. Had Notre Dame accepted the invitation to join the Big East in football sixteen years ago, maybe Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech would still be in the Big East, picking off ACC teams to create a Superconference instead of the other way around. But, due to Notre Dame's wish to remain independent and opportunistic to accrue an unbelievable amount of TV revenue, the Big East failed to acquire college football's biggest client and the surrounding schools left.
And, oh yes, Pitt will get their TV money.
Going against conventional wisdom, the Big East held out on accepting a TV deal with ESPN/ABC last year. Conversely, the ACC accepted a 12 year contract with the biggest sports network in the world. In that span, ESPN/ABC will pay roughly $37.6 million a year to the ACC. That's certainly more than anything the "Big East Network" will generate. Plus, with games being aired on ESPN, the Pitt Panthers will gain more national exposure. Increased revenue and TV exposure gives Pitt the resources to pursue better recruits and a chance to become a top tier program. Even if they finish fifth every year in the conference standings, at the very least, Pitt will compete in a prestigious conference. In the case of college footbal, it is better to be mediocre in an excellent conference, than to be excellent in a mediocre conference.
With the possibility of Big East basketball programs emerging into the ACC, Pitt has the potential to compete in one of the greatest conferences in sports history. When the smoke clears, the ACC could potentially house elite programs such as Pittsburgh, Syracuse, UConn, Duke and UNC. College basketball would be at its peak as rivalries, both new and old, would be secured under once conference. Remember Pitt's thrilling overtime win against Duke in 2007? The magic between both teams will be recreated twice a year in front of both the Cameron Crazies and the Oakland Zoo. Combine that with the possibility of a UNC/Pittsburgh match up and the entire city of Pittsburgh could have college basketball fever. Buckle up.
For those nostalgic of the Big East years when the conference tournament was held in Madison Square Garden, do not lose hope. The ACC could add that venue to the rotation of tournament hosts. After all, it was in Madison Square Garden where Levance Fields nailed a fade away three pointer to give the Panthers a 65-64 win over Duke four years ago. And playing in New York City is much more intriguing to college athletes than paying at UNC Greensboro. Adding northern schools to the mix will make cities such as New York, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia more appropriate to host the ACC tournament.
As it stands, the Big East will make Pitt and Syracuse honor their contract through 2014. However, if the SEC and Pac-12,14,16 fall into place sooner, both teams will be forced out of the Big East and into the ACC. Money talks in college football and the rest of the country will not wait for the ACC to get their teams in place. The next few weeks could see more prestigious schools, such as Texas and Oklahoma, push for the Pac-12. While those schools scramble to find a home, Pittsburgh, for once, will sit and wait, with a comfortable and clear future.
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