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The ACC Sunday introduced Syracuse and Pittsburgh as conference members “in a move that was as swift as it was stunning,” with the two schools “citing the desire for more long-term financial stability,” according to Pete Thamel of the N.Y. TIMES. The move “could be a harbinger of more moves around the country.” Before they move from the Big East to join the ACC, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are “contractually obligated to wait more than two years and pay a $5 million exit fee,” but they “could negotiate an earlier exit.” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said, “In all my years of collegiate administration, I’ve never seen this level of uncertainty and potential fluidity among schools and conferences.” Thamel reports the move “leaves the Big East scrambling” and league officials said that they are “not pleased that Swofford has discussed holding the ACC basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.” The Big East has played there since ‘83 and “has a contract with the Garden through 2016.” Big East officials will open negotiations for television rights in September ‘12, and they “had been optimistic that new deals would be richer than the ACC’s, which is worth $155 million annually.” Thamel writes that possibility “is now remote.” Swofford said that the addition of the two universities “would allow the ACC to renegotiate its contract with ESPN.” The ACC “has spoken with Texas, one of the biggest prizes remaining in the conference landscape, but Swofford’s comments hinted that the conference’s philosophies would not mesh with Texas and its Longhorn Network” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19).
HOW IT HAPPENED: Swofford yesterday said that “a conference committee designed to look at possible expansion met Tuesday and, for the first time, decided that the time was right for the ACC to pursue two new members.” He spoke Wednesday night with Pitt AD Steve Pederson and Thursday with Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. Pederson and Nordenberg “met with trustees and the school's athletics committee Friday, and had submitted a letter of interest by the end of the day.” Nordenberg and Pederson yesterday “both cited geography as one of the ACC's major appeals.” Nordenberg: "To compete on a regular basis up and down the Atlantic coast, from Boston to Miami, really is a big plus for Pitt as a university." He added that the “academic reputation of the ACC played a role in the decision.” The current 12 member schools “rank an average of 49th in U.S. News and World Report's 2012 list of the best national universities” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/19). Swofford indicated that while the move “seemed to come quickly … it's been in the making for the past year and a half.” Swofford: "While the foundation of it was laid starting a year and a half ago, up to this point, our conclusions had continued to be to stay at 12. This week is when that shifted to a belief that looking at the landscape and the circumstances across the country, that there were obviously schools that could add significantly to the Atlantic Coast Conference, that were interested in joining us and the decision was made that now was a good time to go ahead and make that move to strengthen our conference" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/19). Swofford said that the ACC “formed a ‘444’ committee -- made up of four university presidents, four athletic directors, and four faculty representatives -- over a year ago to analyze the college landscape.” He said that the 444 committee “recommended to the Council of Presidents for the ACC to expand to 14 teams” (NEWSDAY.com, 9/18).
ADDED WEALTH: In Syracuse, Waters & O’Brien in a front-page piece report both schools "should have no problem paying" the $5M exit fee to the Big East "thanks to the ACC’s billion-dollar television rights deal with ESPN." However, it is “unclear how soon" SU and Pitt will leave the Big East.” Conference by-laws state that “schools that wish to leave must provide the conference with 27 months’ notice.” But a source said that the time period is “expected to be negotiated down so that Pitt and Syracuse won’t have to remain lame-duck members of the Big East for the next two years.” SU AD Daryl Gross said the difference between the ACC and Big East television revenues is “not even close.” He said that a “more lucrative television contract is only one of the payoffs for SU’s defection.” He added that the new conference “has greater prestige, which will likely mean better recruiting and an increase in fundraising for better facilities.” SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor said the move "provides long-term conference stability in what is an uncertain, evolving and rapidly shifting national landscape” (Syracuse POST-STANDARD, 9/19). The Newark STAR-LEDGER writes there is “no way Pitt and Syracuse -- or anyone else defecting from the Big East -- plan to actually wait two-plus years. .. . Figure on the 2012-13 season for this new conference to be in play” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/19).
Rutgers reportedly has been in talks with the
ACC over the past two days
COME ON DOWN: In Baltimore, Jeff Barker cites sources as saying that ACC members Maryland and Duke are “among those privately expressing interest in a 16-team conference,” and other ACC schools “also favor moving to 16 but at least one unnamed member was against expansion.” Still, officials from two ACC schools “cautioned Sunday that the conference was not close to being ready to approve Connecticut -- not all members are on board with that move -- or any other school as a 15th or 16th member” (Baltimore SUN, 9/19). Maryland AD Kevin Anderson said, “Everybody has talked about the changing climate of college athletics, and we in the ACC wanted to make sure that we were going to be at the forefront and be able to attract the kind of members that fit our conference profile. At Maryland, we’re optimistic. We don’t think it’s going to stop there. We would support adding two more members with open arms” (WASHINGTON POST, 9/19). However, in N.Y., Pete Thamel reported a Congressional member "from a state with a university potentially negatively impacted said that the conference issue raises concerns over taxes, anti-trust laws and potentially Title IX." The representative said, "The situation is rising to the level where getting Congress engaged may be unavoidable" (NYTIMES.com, 9/18).
LEADER OF THE PACK: ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich wrote under the header, “ACC Gets Ahead Of Expansion -- Again.” The ACC’s decision to accept SU and Pitt “came swiftly, efficiently, and was a far tidier process than the last time the conference decided to expand.” The ACC “took control of expansion before expansion took control of it” (ESPN.com, 9/18). Meanwhile, Swofford said that he “is not worried” about the SEC's supposed interest in Florida State. Swofford: "In this day and age could that happen? Sure. That is not something I have lost sleep about because of the commitment made in the league with each other.” Swofford said that the conference's presidents “voted unanimously to raise the exit fee for any member thinking about leaving the conference” from about $13M to about $20M (PALM BEACH POST, 9/19).
FUTURE OF BIG EAST: Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino “penned a candid blog calling the next 72 hours ‘crucial’” to the Big East’s future. Pitino “urged Big East officials to identify schools from other leagues that the league can pluck to stave off extinction.” Pitino wrote, "The Big East must move quickly and secure four football schools to enter ASAP and be ready for two more possible defections” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/18). In Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey writes, “Big East football is a joke. On account of that and the reluctance of conference commissioner John Marinatto to proactively add programs, the conference is a sinking ship. Pitt and Syracuse simply reached for the nearest life rafts they could find” (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 9/19). In Syracuse, Bud Poliquin writes the “end has all but arrived for the Big East.” The departure of SU and Pitt “will be a major contributor to that eventual downfall because there seems almost no way the league can viably exist now that the Orange and the Panthers have so coldly abandoned it” (Syracuse POST-STANDARD, 9/19). ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil wrote it is “easy to place the blame for this calamity at the feet of John Marinatto, and the Big East commish is plenty culpable here.” It is “impossible to fathom any of this happening” under former Big East Commissioner Mike Trangehese's watch. The “bulk of the blame, though, goes to the people who are making the decisions.” O’Neil: “No one likes to talk about integrity more than university presidents, right? Yet no one fails to walk the walk quite as well, either” (ESPN.com, 9/18).
Univ. of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said that the school “did not go behind the Big East’s back" regarding its impending move to the ACC, according to Paul Zeise of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. He claims he "sent a letter to conference commissioner John Marinatto last year stating that Pitt would seriously consider all opportunities to join other conferences presented to it, especially if the Big East did not come up with solutions to some of the major issues facing the football conference.” He also said that “it was not Pitt that led the charge for the Big East to turn down the television contract offered earlier this year despite several published reports to the contrary” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/19). Univ. of Louisville AD Tom Jurich said that the move by Pitt and Syracuse to join the ACC “caught many Big East members by surprise.” He added that Marinatto “learned about it through a reporter -- even though Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg is chairman of the Big East’s executive committee.” Jurich: “I don’t think people saw that coming because you had a president that was leading the charge, a president of the executive committee that everybody entrusted” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 9/18). Jurich added the most recent moves were "kind of a shock to everybody” (ESPN.com, 9/18). Baylor AD Ian McCaw said, "No honor, no trust. I think there's really a lack of honor and a lack of trust throughout college athletics right now. It's very unhealthy" (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/18).
MIXED EMOTIONS: USA TODAY’s Steve Wieberg writes Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick, whose school is a member of the Big East outside of football, “portrayed Nordenberg as a figure of influence and took issue with ‘a university’s leadership taking a position that it was going to lead a conference’s efforts in keeping it together and … with no notice to anybody, abandoning it.” Nordenberg yesterday said, “Every university leader involved in intercollegiate athletics really has two fundamental responsibilities. One is to work to build strength in a current conference home. The second is to be appropriately attentive to the changing landscape and institutional opportunities that might need to be pursued” (USA TODAY, 9/19). In Pittsburgh, Bob Smizik writes, “Except for winning the football national championship in 1976, this is the most important event in Pitt athletics in at least the past 60 years.” He added Nordenberg "is a villain" to schools such as Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida. However, Nordenberg and Pitt AD Steve Pederson "are heroes -- or at least should be -- to Pitt supporters.” They were “proactive” and earned the school a “seat at the table of power when there were not that many of those seats available” (POST-GAZETTE.com, 9/19).
OUT OF JURISDICTION: ESPN.com’s Andy Katz reported NCAA President Mark Emmert indicated that he “has been consulting conference commissioners and presidents of schools debating conference moves, but that he has no ability to affect the movement in college athletics.” Emmert: “I’ve been talking to commissioners and presidents and helping to try to keep people focused on the picture and reminding people at the end of the day we’re talking about student-athletes and I think the institutions are being as thoughtful as they can on this. We don’t have a formal role in any conference configurations. The presidents have always had that and always will.” He added, “The members have never given the NCAA the authority over conference configuration and they’re unlikely to ever do that.” Katz noted Emmert made the point “about how important the NCAA’s $10.8 billion, 14-year deal for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament with CBS/Turner Sports is to the membership and yet another reason why there isn’t anxiety at the headquarters over four super conferences leaving and forming their own version of the NCAA” (ESPN.com, 9/18).
MONEY ON THEIR MIND: A USA TODAY editorial is written under the header, “In College Sports, 10=12 and 12=10.” Syracuse and Pitt leaving the Big East is “just the latest sign of how administrators of schools with big-time athletic programs are more consumed with pursuing the almighty dollar than they are with cleaning up the scandal-plagued college sports scene.” They would “continue a trend of teams deserting the Big East and the Big 12 Conferences … to form what looks to be four ‘super conferences.’” This, in turn, “is part of a longer process of the strongest programs joining an ever-shrinking pool of elite conferences for the purposes of dominating the sport and its TV revenue.” The editorial: “One wonders why universities demand so much of their student-athletes, and so little of themselves” (USA TODAY, 9/19).
Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are "engaged in serious discussions with the Pac-12, but the level has not yet reached the point" where Commissioner Larry Scott "has asked his 12 school presidents to approve invitations for the four Big 12 schools," according to Trubow & Bohls of the AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN. UT President William Powers and Scott "met for three hours on Friday at a business office" in L.A. UT men's AD DeLoss Dodds and women's AD Chris Plonsky "were not present at the meeting, and all three administrators flew home late Saturday night after the Longhorns' 49-20 win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl." UT "still prefers to stay in the Big 12 and had hoped to convince Pittsburgh and Brigham Young to join," but the Pitt option is off after they joined the ACC yesterday. Some Pac-12 presidents "have expressed dissent about further expansion for their league," but a source said that Scott "didn't have total unanimity initially on other issues, either -- like the additions of Colorado and Utah last June, North-South division splits and revenue-sharing issues -- but was able to work out a consensus." Sources said that "any deal would allow Texas to retain its lucrative Longhorn Network under the umbrella of the Pac-16, and keep the revenue stream along the same lines of the 20-year LHN deal with ESPN that pays Texas $300 million." Under Pac-12 bylaws that "created six regional networks pairing the conference schools, Texas would add Texas Tech in its network and include some Pac-16 content in the LHN programming." The net "would probably carry the Pac-16 name." UT officials "would be able to keep all of their revenue from the LHN if that amount is greater than one-sixteenth of what the entire Pac-12 receives for its third-tier rights." However, a source said that if that one-sixteenth "ends up being a larger amount, the 16 schools would divide the revenue evenly" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/19). In San Antonio, Mike Finger cites a source as saying Pac-12 expansion "remains a fluid situation" (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/19).
HURDLES REMAIN: In N.Y., Pete Thamel reports "three significant steps must be taken before any type of deal can be consummated." First, UT regents "must approve of the deal when they meet" today. The second factor is "completing the details of the new 16-team league, including the alignment of the divisions and how Texas’ Longhorn Network would fold into the Pac-12’s television contract structure." The "third hurdle will be whether they approve the additions." There are "worries over the size of the league, the academic reputation of Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and a philosophical concern over why the league needs to grow more in the wake of the blockbuster television contract signed this year" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19). Big 12 administrators indicated that there is a "likelihood of dividing the league into four-team pods for travel purposes, with Tech, Texas, Oklahoma and OSU all becoming part of the same pod to minimize travel concerns." One Big 12 administrator yesterday said that "nothing is certain but 'all signs seem to be pointing' in the direction of the Pac-16 for the Big 12 schools." Another source "said not to rule out the ACC option in regard to Texas" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 9/19).
FANS WANT RIVALRIES MAINTAINED: A poll commissioned by Baylor Univ. and conducted by DC-based KRC Research found that three-quarters of college football fans “would be disappointed with the creation of super conferences that would eliminate historical regional conference rivalries.” The poll also indicated “a strong belief that decision-making regarding conference realignment should be conducted with transparency and public input.” The survey, conducted Sept. 16-18 among 1,500 college graduates within the Big 12 footprint, found strong support for the existing college athletic conference realignment. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said schools should “fight to preserve the original intent of collegiate athletics as part of the student experience” while only 19% said the “commercialization of college sports is inevitable and should be expected” (THE DAILY).