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.
The Big East now has lost five members that field high-level football teams to the ACC since 2004;Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College left for the ACC in the ACC’s last expansion. With the departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh and next year’s expected arrival of Texas Christian, the Big East would be left with only seven schools that play big-time college football, an untenable situation for any conference that wishes to remain in the Bowl Championship Series, the six-conference conglomerate that controls the financially lucrative bowl bids handed out to the league champions. (Georgetown is one of 10 current Big East members that does not play in the top tier of college football.)
Georgetown Athletics Director Lee Reed said in statement: “As a founding member of the Big East in 1979, we have confronted challenging moments in the past and we are confident that as we work through the events of the past days we will maintain the high quality of the Big East Conference.”
It was not immediately clear when the move by Syracuse and Pittsburgh would take effect. The Big East requires schools to give 27 months notice of plans to leave the conference and a payment of $5 million, but the timetable could be accelerated.
Swofford said Sunday that hurting the Big East was not the ACC’s intent. Rather, he said, the ACC had to protect its interests and had received overtures from a “double-digit” number of schools wanting to join the conference.
“In all my years of college athletics administration, I’ve never seen this level of uncertainty and potential fluidity among schools and conferences,” said Swofford, 62. “Schools are looking for stability. . . . And I think the conferences that appear to be stable moving forward are going to receive inquiries.”