Two pillars of the Big East, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, have applied to join the ACC and appear poised to do so as early as 2013.
If admitted, the ACC’s ranks would swell to 14 members. It’s seen as doubtful that the ACC would stand pat at that number for an appreciable length of time, with 16 widely viewed as the optimum number for conference divisions and scheduling purposes.
When asked Saturday if the ACC would look to increase in size to 16 teams, North Carolina Athletic Director Dick Baddour said: “It may or may not. I think that depends on . . . how we size up the situation.”
The potential addition of Syracuse, a founding member of the Big East, and Pittsburgh, which joined the Big East in 1982, would be regarded as a coup for the ACC. Both schools have powerhouse men’s basketball programs and tradition-rich football programs.
If consummated, the move would likely trigger more upheavals in the already tumultuous landscape of college sports — further destabilizing the Big East, of which Georgetown is a founding member, and stripping the Hoyas of their storied conference rivalry with Syracuse.
On Saturday, representatives of ACC programs mostly directed reporters’ questions to the office of Commissioner John Swofford, who could not be reached for comment. Florida State President Eric Barron, however, confirmed to the Associated Press that Syracuse and Pittsburgh had applied for ACC membership and said the process could be completed quickly.
“I’ll be surprised if it’s not” Sunday, Barron told the AP.
Big East spokesman John Pacquette said the league would have no comment Saturday. But sources in both leagues — who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record — characterized the defection of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which had been in the ACC’s sights in the last round of expansion, as “a done deal.”
Baddour said Saturday that Swofford appointed a committee roughly 18 months ago to study the question of expansion, both nationally and as it might relate to the ACC, so the league would be well positioned to respond if the need arose. That panel, composed of four university presidents, four athletic directors and four NCAA faculty representatives, is still at work.
Asked about the potential addition of Pitt and Syracuse, Baddour declined to comment specifically on either school but said: “From our position, if you think about this nationally, it’s obvious that the world is turning upside down, and you want the ACC — I want the University of North Carolina — to be in a position where we are strong, that we are strong in all areas, that all of our sports are strong, that our television packages are strong as well. I think it’s absolutely the right thing for the conference, for John [Swofford] to show that leadership and have something in place.”
Any realignment could leave the Big East programs that do not play big-time college football — Georgetown among them — in a precarious position.
In a telephone interview, Georgetown men’s basketball Coach John Thompson III said: “It’s been clear for two years, if not longer, that the landscape of intercollegiate athletics is fluid and is changing. The Big East is no different. The future, be it the very near future or longer than that, we are going to undergo a transformation, a change.
“One thing that I feel confident about is that if you look at our history, the Big East has undergone changes in the past, be it subtractions or additions, and each and every time we’ve come out stronger.”
According to sources, Big East Commissioner John Marianatto wasn’t formally notified by either Pittsburgh or Syracuse that they were seeking admission to the ACC, but heard about it through media reports Saturday. The development came the day after Dave Gavitt, a founder of the Big East and the league’s first commissioner, died after a long illness at age 73.
Staff writers Steve Yanda in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Tarik El-Bashir in Washington, contributed to this report.