Here on the Three Rivers Burgh Blog we don’t talk a lot outside of the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates but as you know I am a pretty big Pitt fan. No, I didn’t go to Pitt, I went to a small Division-II school in Western Pennsylvania, but I am from Pittsburgh so the Panthers have always been dear to my heart. The western part of the state does not have an NBA team and I sure as hell never wanted to cheer for the Cavs over in Cleveland so I watched Pitt. I was there through some lean years and I was at Fitzgerald Fieldhouse in the pre NIT years and cheered for the team through the NIT years and now with Jamie Dixon and the Peterson Event Center come along I watch as top-five teams come to the Pete and wither away. All of this is neither here nor there but it is just to give you a glimpse into how I feel about a team I call my own even though I never went to the University.
Last night there were rumors that Pitt and Syracuse were interested in moving to the ACC. That was it, rumors, nothing more and I didn’t put a ton of stock into them. Yesterday morning I woke up and went online to check the game time of a few games and on the right hand side of the screen said that there were reports that both schools had “applied” to the ACC. A little later in the night it was reported that it was all but a done deal that Pittsburgh and Syracuse were going to the ACC. Then later again that night the ACC was setting up a 9:30 a.m. conference call on Sunday morning and then Sunday morning the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University were part of the ACC. I am not going to lie I wasn’t surprised. When all the new conferences were forming I thought that if Pitt was going to make any kind of a move it would be to go to the ACC. I thought this for a ton of reasons and most of them are why they inevitably will be announcing their acceptance to the ACC as soon as tomorrow.
There are big time ramifications to the move for not only the top tier sports of football and basketball, but also for the school as a whole. This will also have a major impact on the Big East in the future as they are looking like they are just treading water waiting for other conferences (read: Big 12) to fall apart and pick up the scraps. Here are some of my general thoughts on my move. I also listed in some help from JD Schroeder who is the Vice President of the Oakland Zoo with some information for this. That dudes lives for Pitt as much as anyone I know and if you aren’t following him on Twitter then you are really doing something wrong.
Football is a sport that is going to benefit from the move to the ACC. It is no secret that the Big East isn’t one of the top football conferences. There are not true top-level teams and most of the teams in the conference that earn the automatic bid to the BCS game usually get worked over. Pitt, WVU and maybe South Florida are considered the front runners this year and none of those teams are frightening when you look at them.
The move to the ACC will help do a couple of things including getting some games against better completion. Sure, the way things are now Pitt would get beat up pretty well in the ACC and I have no problem admitting that, but that will make them a better team. How you ask? Well it is not out of the realm of possibility that Pitt is able to win the Big East this year. The offense against Iowa for the first three quarters was pretty good and the defense was even better. Sure, there was a collapse in the fourth quarter but we are talking about an entirely new system for these kids that they have been playing in for what is now three full games. The two big games on the schedule are South Florida and West Virginia, and if you told me that Pitt won both of those it wouldn’t shock me. IF Pitt did win those games and went to the BCS game what kind of chances would you give them? Not a great one, in my opinion.
Now switch to the ACC, a conference that from all looks of it would like to have 16 teams in the conference. Sure moving from playing Rutgers and UConn to playing Boston College, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Miami is a pretty big step but wouldn’t you agree that playing tougher competition will make you a better team? Sure it would be great to win the Big East every couple of years but I am more concerned with winning BCS games. The ACC will prepare us for that opportunity. Not only will the stiffer competition make Pitt a better team but it will give them MORE chances to win the conference. Unlike the Big East the ACC has a conference championship game. That means that the two best teams are going to play for a chance at the BCS berth and will have another quality game to try and push them up in the BCS standings for an attempt to play in the BCS Championship game.
I know that thinking about a National Championship game is tough to put your finger on now, or even playing for a conference championship with how Pitt has played in the past but we aren’t just talking about now; we are talking about the future. Putting Pitt in a position to play better teams throughout the year and then giving them possibly another opportunity to play for a BCS spot is important.
A lot of people are making the point that it would be tough to not have the Backyard Brawl game against West Virginia every year. This sucks. I hate WVU and I love doing so but if this is the biggest holdback then I am all for it. There are non-conference games that you can play these games and even if you don’t there will be plenty of rivalry opportunities available against Maryland and former Big East members Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College.
Most also forget that back in 2003 that BC, VT and Miami were all Big East teams. They had some great and epic games and then all three bolted for the ACC. I didn’t really think much of the time but as we have seen in the past those teams have been good football teams. When the Big East lost them, it killed the conference’s football. I remember going to Pitt/Miami football games with the Big East title on the line. Heinz Field was packed and the BCS berth was on the line. It was in prime time. Those games can now happen again.
TV money and exposure is going to be huge in the deal, especially in football. Pitt football gets local play but I can’t really say that throughout the years that Pitt has been a major player on the TV side of things in prime time. The ACC has an ESPN contract. ESPN contract means money. Money drives moves. It is really that simple. More publicity and a better chance to get on TV makes everyone happy and couple that with better completion and this is a nice step up for Pitt in the football aspect.
A pretty big hot button item on this top is basketball. The Big East is generally regarded as the top basketball conference in the nation with the ACC ranking anywhere from second to fourth depending on who you ask. The Panthers have been one of the top teams in the conference for some years so naturally there are going to be people who ask why?
This one can really go either way with me. Sure, the Big East is a great basketball conference but let’s not kid ourselves, it is about money and football makes money. This also doesn’t mean that the program is going to fold because they are going to some third-rate basketball conference; they are going to one of the best.
What is not talked about in the move is that another piece to this puzzle is probably going to the ACC in Syracuse. Now when you look at the ACC, basketball wise, you are going to have Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, Syracuse Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Maryland. The Big East will have Nova, Louisville, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Georgetown and UConn(maybe). The ACC is going to be just as strong as the Big East when this is all said and done. There are even rumors that UConn is interested in the ACC as well. If UConn bolts for the ACC as well, it’s no longer even a discussion which conference is the best at basketball.
A big drawback to this move is some of the great Big East basketball that we are all used to watching. I do not like UConn whatsoever and playing them in the regular season is what it is all about, but is it worth it to stay in the Big East for games against UConn and Vilanova when you can be playing Maryland or Duke or North Carolina? Seems OK to me. Another shot to leaving the Big East is not playing at Madison Square Garden. MSG is a staple of college basketball and playing tournament games there is really something special to watch. The kids love it and it is just that iconic places to be. That will be a tough pill to swallow, but let’s not act like playing a post season tournament at MSG is more important than the ultimate goal of winning in the NCAA Tournament. I know moving to the ACC doesn’t guarantee anything but I don’t buy the logic that the Panthers program is going to struggle because they don’t get to play at MSG.
Almost in the same breath at MSG there is a real question about recruiting, especially in basketball, if Pitt moves to the ACC. I get the point of it. Jamie Dixon has recruited heavily in the New York/New Jersey/ Philadelphia area and playing in the Big East and playing the Big East Tournament at MSG is a big selling ticket when he is going to get those kids. That is what the foundation of his earlier teams was built on. I know I have seen a lot of people talking as if the program isn’t going to be able to recruit from that area if they move to the ACC. I am sorry, but did I miss a rule that you can’t recruit from that area if you are in the ACC? Am I supposed to assume that Duke or North Carolina or Maryland doesn’t recruit players from the Northeast? Give me a break. Will it maybe make it harder to get those kids? Maybe. Is it going to be impossible? Far from it. If you look at Pitt’s recruiting class just or this year, no players are from the NYC/NJ area. Two are from the Philly area, one is from Canada, and one is from Maryland. Would you like to know who else is from Maryland? Dante Taylor, Talib Zanna, 2012 recruit James Robinson, and Durand Johnson. Arguably Jamie Dixon’s best recruiting grab ever, Steven Adams, isn’t even from the US. He’s a New Zealand product.
The move to the ACC by two of the best Big East basketball teams might make the Big East a little less of a basketball power and might actually make the ACC the best basketball conference in the country. Isn’t that what you want your basketball team to play in, the top conference? OK then. With Pitt, Syracuse and possibly UConn gone, it’s very possible there may not even be a Big East conference to be compared to. Who says the ACC couldn’t slide into the MSG venue for their tournament if that happens? And let’s be honest…Duke and UNC at the Pete with the Zoo? Are you kidding?
You want to look at the competitive balance of the two basketball conferences? Take a look at what Keith McBride did on his blog here. Unreal stuff.
I guess the thing I am most excited about in this whole movement talk is that Pitt is taking care of Pitt. They aren’t worrying about West Virginia or Louisville or UConn or even the Big East as a whole, they are taking care of themselves and doing what is best for their institution. The Big East is in bad shape right now. The Big Ten, Pac who knows and SEC are the three big conferences and the ACC is close to going into that talk. The Big 12 is quickly falling by the wayside and when they do the Big East will be going there and trying to pick up the scraps. Is that really what you want to be a part of? Furthermore is the Big East even going to be around in five years? Say Pitt stays in the Big East and the ACC takes another team, are you really confident that the conference is going to survive with even less talent in football and basketball then it already has? Why wait too long and suffer when you can make a move and secure your future. That is exactly what Pitt did. They are taking the first step and putting themselves in a good position. Pitt is making sure it’s not the one left without a seat at the table. Pitt cannot sacrifice its own athletics program for the sake of the Big East.
I saw an interview online today with the Louisville AD and you can tell that he isn’t very happy with what happened. You can watch the video here but the premise of the video is that back in May all the AD’s got together and pretty much said that they were going to stick together and look out for each other. The Pittsburgh chancellor was the chair of the Big East committee and helped keep the conference on the same page much as it did in 2003. Problem is that since 2003 the conference hasn’t been strong and has struggled. I might be reading a little too much into this but what the Pittsburgh chancellor said back in May might have been the truth. Maybe in May Pitt wasn’t expecting to go anywhere. Why should Pitt turn down a great opportunity when the conference itself doesn’t seem to be helping itself out. I have no idea and I am sure there is much more to it but you can bet your ass there is going to be some sour grapes in the Big East. To be honest I don’t blame the other schools for being sour but like I said before I am glad that Pitt is taking the lead on this. How would you feel if Pitt stayed in the Big East and five years down the road it falls apart and they end up in a place that they don’t fit? I know I wouldn’t like that. Also, as Paul Zeise pointed out, Steve Pederson made it very clear that Pitt wanted a 12 football team conference and the Big East simply sat on it. Big East leadership was being far too complacent, so Pitt acted on its own behalf. Pitt’s Nordenberg was crucial to saving the conference in 2003, and don’t forget it was Jamie Dixon that actually brought TCU to the table. Pitt had done enough to try to save the sinking ship.
This is a really big move but it isn’t like this is the only one that is happening. WVU has been rumored to be talking to the SEC and the ACC is said to have had in excess of 10 teams talking to them about coming to the party. Just imagine if the ACC also adds UConn to the conference. How would that make you feel? What if they added WVU? It could happen, Pitt is just the first team that was going to make the bold move and start things. There are going to be four huge conferences and Pitt is making sure they get into one of them. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of one of the best conferences? I would.
You also might want to check out these few tweets from Keith McBride about meeting up with a Pitt administrative person?
What do you guys think? Does it matter? Do you care? Hit the comments.