SBD/September 19, 2011/Colleges

ACC Moves Quickly To Accept Pittsburgh, Syracuse Into Conference

Syracuse and Pitt will have to pay $5M exit fee to join the ACC
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
RUTGERS, UCONN NEXT?
In Newark, Tom Luicci cites sources as saying that Rutgers “has been involved in talks with the ACC about possible membership over the past two days and its lines of communications with the Big Ten have remained open and ‘are active.’" Rutgers is “fearful of being left without a BCS conference to call home,” and is “aggressively pursuing a possible landing spot outside the Big East.” Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti: “We're continuing to be engaged in talks with several parties, and I think that's been the case for a long time more than the last 36 hours." He added, "I would imagine that the next 30 days are going to be very telling period of time for our entire industry” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/19). Meanwhile, ESPN.com’s Katz & Schad cited a source as saying that Univ. of Connecticut President Susan Herbst is “aggressively pursuing membership in the ACC to become the 15th or 16th member institution in the conference.” The source said that Herbst “was having conversations recently but in light of Pittsburgh's and Syracuse's defections from the Big East, the talks have accelerated in the last 48 hours” (ESPN.com, 9/18). In N.Y., Mark Viera cites a source as saying that Herbst “had been active in the process of a potential conference change, with the ACC being a possible target.” Pernetti acknowledged that he is “trying to make contingency plans" for Rutgers, but he "declined to name the conferences that he contacted. “ Swofford yesterday said the ACC was “not philosophically opposed” to expanding to 16 teams. He said that 10 universities “had inquired about membership” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19).

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).
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