Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in a move ACC commissioner John Swofford said will strengthen the conference as its membership grows to 14.
The ACC announced the news Sunday morning and held a telephone conference with reporters to explain the move.
Big East bylaws call for each of the schools to pay a $5 million exit fee to the Big East and wait 27 months before departing. Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg said the school plans to comply with those bylaws, but is open to an earlier, negotiated departure that wouldn’t leave the school with an extended lame duck status in the Big East.
“I would think that in the weeks ahead everyone will be looking at the transition period and trying to determine whether the 27-month notice period really serves everyone’s best interests,” Nordenberg said.
Swofford said the move bridges the ACC’s geographic footprint from Maryland to Massachusetts so that the conference’s reach extends over the entire Eastern Seaboard, from Boston College to Miami.
Adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse also opens up new possibilities for the ACC. Expanding membership by two schools allows the ACC to reopen negotiations with current TV rights holder ESPN in a move Swofford predicted will more than pay for itself. The ACC is in the first year of a 12-year contract that will pay a reported $1.86 billion.
Getting a team based in the state of New York also brings the possibility of taking the ACC men’s basketball tournament to Madison Square Garden in New York City at least on occasion.
“I don’t think there’s any question that taking a look at New York and Madison Square Garden would be very appealing for ACC basketball fans,” Swofford said, “and more so now with teams in closer proximity and with that being the media center of the world, so to speak. We’d probably be remiss if we didn’t think of it in those terms.”
The move follows the ACC’s addition of Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College in 2005 to expand to 12 members. A question left unanswered is whether ACC presidents ultimately would like to have 16 members in the conference as Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC expansion have the college athletic world buzzing about the concept of “superconferences.”
Swofford said the changing college athletic landscape makes it certain that strong conferences will continue to be approached by schools hoping to join. He said the ACC has received inquiries numbering in double digits from schools aspiring to become members, but wouldn’t name the schools.
“We’re very comfortable with this 14,” he said. “The only thing I would add to that is that we are not philosophically opposed to 16, but for now we are very pleased with this 14. We think it’s an excellent group.”
Although the Palm Beach Post reported last week that Florida State will establish a committee to assess its long-term conference options, Swofford said he believes the current membership of the ACC is unified.
Last week, ACC presidents unanimously voted to increase the conference’s exit fee to about $20 million; it had been about $12 million to $14 million. Swofford acknowledged that it’s possible that the ACC could lose schools, but said he is confident in the commitment the current schools have to one another.
“In all of our conversations about this, both individually and collectively, and any conversations I’ve had with any of our presidents and/or athletic directors, I have never once received any indication of anything other than that they are fully committed to the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Swofford said.