ACC addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh fuels concerns over future of Big East

Jared Wickerham/GETTY IMAGES - University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg speaks at a news conference following the acceptance of the university into the Atlantic Coast Conference at Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Sunday its expansion to 14 teams with the inclusion of Big East schools Syracuse and Pittsburgh. As Liz Clarke reported:

The Atlantic Coast Conference on Sunday announced a swift and decisive step to broaden its geographic and economic footprint by officially inviting Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh to join the league.

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The move comes at a time of increasing tumult in the conference alignment of college sports, as major university athletic departments seek to maximize revenue through lucrative television contracts handed out to the most visible conferences and schools.

By adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the ACC in one bold stroke extended its television market and recruiting base to virtually the entire Eastern Seaboard, raised its athletic profile and girded against potential raids of its schools by other conferences.

“This is indeed a monumental day in the history of our league,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said Sunday in a teleconference with reporters.

But at the same time, the ACC’s power play also jeopardized the stability and status of the Big East, the conference that has been home to Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and also includes men’s basketball power Georgetown.

It also deprives Georgetown of the conference rival its fans most love to hate, Syracuse, and the chance to regularly showcase its athletes in the country’s largest basketball arena, Syracuse’s 33,000-seat Carrier Dome.

After the ACC announced their new additions, Tracee Hamilton asked who will end up better off after the realignment?

Conference realignment continues to turn college football into a nightmarish hell-scape that would make even Cormac McCarthy hide under his bed, drooling and begging for the end of days.

Is there room under there for me, Mr. McCarthy?

I realize this toothpaste is not going back in the tube. The time for sanity and careful planning is long, long past. Chaos is a foregone conclusion. Up is down. Black is white. Good is bad. Bad is worse.

I can’t believe I was actually looking forward to the return of college football, but that was a simpler time, and I was younger then . . . a full 18 days younger. Sunday’s most recent disillusionment was the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. That’s hardly the last move we’ll see; it’s more like those few droplets you find on the floor before the water heater rusts through and floods the basement.

Super conferences are a foregone conclusion. So be it. Can’t someone sit down and guide the process so that when the smoke clears, there is some method in the madness?

Short answer: no.

The NCAA urges caution, but regrets it can’t step in to help. Its mascot should be an ostrich with its head in the sand. NCAA President Mark Emmert told USA Today on Sunday: “This is not about playing Monopoly and moving pieces around on the board. These are real institutions with real students and real coaches and real programs, and it’s much, much more complex than playing a simple game.”

Columnist John Feinstein argued that the ACC’s poaching of Syracuse and Pittsburgh will hurt the Big East more than it will help the ACC:

Adding Pitt and Syracuse doesn’t really change the league’s football profile at all. They are no different and certainly no better than Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Maryland et al: teams that will win a lot of little ones but not very many big ones.

The new schools are certainly positive in men’s basketball, especially at a time when the ACC has become essentially a two-team league in that sport. No ACC team other than Duke or North Carolina has been past the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 since 2004.

Only Texas can change the ACC’s football image and, remarkably, that isn’t out of the question.The Pacific-12 and the Big Ten likely won’t want the Longhorns and their overpriced TV network because they have networks of their own. The Southeastern Conference isn’t taking them after accepting Texas A&M. The Big 12 likely will cease to exist unless it goes into business with the now equally desperate Big East.

That might leave the ACC, which would put out a burnt orange carpet for Texas football Coach Mack Brown to walk down, as the last suitor standing. The addition of the Longhorns would be enough to make the ACC matter in football for the first time this century.

For the Big East, the question isn’t whether it will matter but whether it will exist. The league thought it had taken a step that would ensure its survival in football when it recruited TCU a year ago. TCU’s arrival as the ninth football-playing school turned an unwieldy 16-team basketball conference into a ridiculous 17-team basketball conference, but that didn’t seem to bother all the decision-makers, who are fixated solely on football TV revenue.

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