September 19, 2011

Kind of fun being in the eye of this at the moment. It’s all swirling around Pitt, but at this point the only thing landing on Pitt is the name-calling. Here’s the thing Pitt fans: many of us decry when others — players, management, PR flacks,  others in the media have a thin-skin about things. Same rule applies for us. There has and will be crap flown towards Pitt. Not all of it particularly intelligent or well-thought out. Not much of it you will like.

Hard, though, it may be, deal with it. Don’t take it personally. You can offer the facts. You can point out the obvious evidence. Just don’t let yourself get too worked up over the silliness. Pitt is going to be painted as the bad guy. It’s the simple narrative. Some will go over the tops, others treating it like Pitt just part of the general problem.

Let me take you through the run down in case you missed some of it.

One other factor to consider. All the other expansiopocolypse involved pure football plays. Texas has a really good b-ball program. Texas A&M, Oklahoma and OSU have their moments. But as far as national college basketball writers are concerned, yawn.

That all changed with Pitt and Syracuse fleeing the sinking ship of the Big East.

Suddenly, over the weekend, it started to feel real. Really real, really fast.

Conference realignment — two words everyone’s quickly adapting as cringe-worthy as “Brett Favre” — just had its first corporeal, wide-ranging impact on college basketball. Before this, the BYU, Texas A&M, Colorado, Boise State (what? Don’t you realize it jumped form the WAC to the Mountain West?) and Nebraska scurries from one spot to another were fringe movements; the fray before the tear. They no doubt signaled a larger shift at work, but it wasn’t until the swift — and goodness was this FAST — bolt from the Big East by Syracuse and Pitt that we really felt the revolt.

We finally have a tear.

The other schools jumping, like most of these decisions, if not all of them, were football-related. But I don’t see how the case could be made this Syracuse/Pitt package deal was all about pigskin. This truly, tangibly shifted the perception and existence of the college basketball world.

The attacks suddenly come into focus when you realize most of the media vitriol is coming from college basketball writers. Not the football ones, who really took it as a side dish.

He also claimed the move was not a “reaction” to events elsewhere, but are we really to believe it’s a coincidence the conference suddenly decided to add two marginally relevant football programs at the same time its neighbors in the SEC are looking to expand?

In fact, the on-field ramifications of the Pitt and Syracuse moves are so inconsequential to anyone but the Pinstripe Bowl selection committee that it’s far more interesting to contemplate the possible effects on two bigger fish: Texas and Notre Dame.

I’ll be coming back to some of the Texas and ND fall out soon enough.

Now that this stuff is hitting the college basketball side, and it isn’t so antiseptic and detached.

Dana O’Neil — who has done some great long-form stories on individual players and coaches — was one of the early ones to get stupid. The founder of the Big East, Dave Gavitt — the conference’s first commissioner, and former Providence AD — passed away on the same day that it came out Pitt and Syracuse were bolting for the ACC. Now, facts be damned, the symbolism is just too good to be skipped. The headline of the story screams the theme, “Greed and Hypocrisy Spell the end of the Big East as we know it.”

Now, on the same weekend Gavitt died of congestive heart failure at the age of 73, Syracuse has helped bury the league he so adored.

Because this is the end of the Big East. Let’s not kid ourselves here.

Let’s not. Greed, hypocrisy and fear were the reasons the Big East came into being. The conference was formed because the predominantly Eastern Catholic colleges feared the threat of a football driven conference led by Penn State. They formed the Big East, not out of some ideal but by fear and greed. The greed being the recognition that they could package their basketball for the nascent cable TV market.

As for hypocrisy and happily destroying history, just look to Boston College and Holy Cross. Before the the formation of the conference, the two were evenly matched rivals in one city. They wanted to join together. Keeping their rivalry and history. The Big East would only take one. They only needed one school in the Boston market. Boston College eventually blinked first. While the death of Holy Cross basketball as a significant factor in the East may be directly on BC’s hands, it was the Big East that helped bring it about.

Or Temple. For much of the 80s and 90s, Temple was simply the better basketball program in Philly than Villanova. They had a bigger market share of Philly, nationally ranked and a recognized force. The Big East never let them all the way into the league because Villanova wouldn’t abide it.

When the conference finally had to add football, it was with its nose held and treating Rutgers, WVU, VT and Miami as barely tolerable presences. You don’t think that treatment didn’t make it easier for VT and Miami to leave later. To justify leaving, then you are kidding yourself. If you think Rutgers and WVU fans have forgotten, then you are delusional.

Now Pitt has come in for more of a pillaging because Chancellor Nordenberg led the charge to save the Big East in 2003. His words from then are being used as Exhibit A to show Pitt’s hypocrisy now. Again, this is typical. This happens all the time in politics. Pitt Script attacks this issue.

That Pitt warned the Big East as far back as May that they would look out for their own interests is not relevant. Nor is what Pitt did in 2003 to salvage the Big East. The change in the landscape of college athletics is also not the point. It is the standard, “gotcha” bit for declaring people hypocrites. Nothing that can be done about it.

Mike DeCourcy, a Pittsburgh native, and one of the best college basketball writers out there hates the present expansion situation because he sees it as being bad for college basketball. He wrote a very silly piece on how Pitt could be doomed because of the move to the ACC.

There are three principle ingredients to the Panthers’ stunning, almost incongruous basketball success: The particular genius of coach Jamie Dixon, the construction of the Petersen Events Center and the Big East Conference.

He argues that Pitt could lose Dixon and without the Big East their recruiting strength of NJ, Philly and NY. The latter is easy to rebut. Pitt has not been a primarily Philly/NY/NJ recruiting program for several years. This isn’t to diminish the importance of those areas for Pitt’s recruiting, but Coach Dixon has expanded Pitt’s recruiting.

The 2008 core of Robinso, Gibbs and Woodall was really the last time for that. In 2009: Zanna (Nigeria via Maryland), Taylor (grew up in NY but was in prep school in Maryland) and Patterson (Lancaster, PA). 2010: Epps (NJ), Wright (Cleveland) and Moore (NY but prepped in Connecticut). 2011: Birch (Montreal, prepped in Massachusetts), Durand Johnson (Maryland, prepped in New Hampshire), John Johnson and Malcolm Gilbert (both Philly). 2012: Adams (New Zealand, prepping in Mass.) and Robinson (Marlyland). Somehow, I don’t think Pitt will struggle to continue recruiting in the area.

Now the issue of Coach Dixon. This argument is almost interesting:

Around 18 months ago, when Pitt was rumored to be a candidate for membership in the Big Ten Conference, Dixon was known to be less than enthused about that prospect. What he understands that too many do not is that Pitt’s presence among the basketball elite is more perilous than just about anyone’s.

Dixon’s success against Big East heavyweights such as Syracuse and Connecticut has made him among the most coveted coaches. If he perceives the Pitt job as weakened because of a move away from the Big East, he might be induced to move away, as well.

Let me say, that if Pitt was going to the Big 10, then yes, I could see Dixon leaving. He definitely did not want Pitt heading to the midwest. Not when all his recruiting inroads have been in the East. And where is the ACC? Pitt will continue to try and schedule a game in MSG — just as Duke does. It will look to play a game every year or so in the Philly area. Last I checked there was more than just Villanova in Philadelphia.

Given that there may not be much of an East Coast presence to whatever is left of the Big East, the greater risk to Pitt basketball would have been staying. How would Pitt basketball been better served by playing games with Iowa State, Kansas, Baylor and Big 12 remnants along with Cinci, Louisville and USF?

As for real blame for the Big East heading to disaster. Well, at least one long time college basketball writer knows the score. Dick Weiss may be an old NYC basketball writer, but he is still one of the best.

This was a rough, rough day for Marinatto, who was last seen doing his best impersonation of Beebe, pacing the hallway while he talked on his cell phone before finally disappearing.

This sadly looks like a colossal failure of leadership on the part of a commissioner who is in over his head. Syracuse and Pitt would have never dissed previous commissioner Mike Tranghese like this. But Marinatto is no Mike Tranghese.

And he’s no Dave Gavitt, either – a driving force behind the creation of the Big East, and one of the most influential voice in college sports, who died Friday night at 73. Gavitt was the conference’s first commissioner.

Other than talking about giving the remnants of the Big 12 a safety net if Texas goes to the ACC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State bolt for the Pac-12 and that league implodes, Marinatto has failed to protect his strongest assets once the dominos started falling in this second round of expansion. Unlike the ACC, which just voted to raise its exit fee for teams wishing to defect from $12 million-$14 million to $20 million, the Big East has made it too easy for its current teams to get a divorce. The price of freedom in the Big East is only $5 million plus a window of notification.

College athletics is entering a brave new world and it appears the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and ACC are going to be the big winners. The Big East can try to cobble together a viable league in hopes of keeping a seat at the BCS table by offering to add Central Florida and hoping the Big Ten, SEC or ACC doesn’t poach any more of its current members.

But if Big East football collapses, there will be a lot of fingers pointing at one man.

Not if, when. And it appears that the basketball-only side of things might want to jump rather than be pushed.

As the fissures continue to grow in the Big East, the league’s seven non-football members have decided to explore their options.

The athletic directors of St. John’s, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence, DePaul, Marquette and Notre Dame have scheduled a teleconference Monday to discuss the league’s ever-changing status. The move follows the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, with the prospect of more losses if the SEC targets West Virginia, the ACC absorbs Connecticut and perhaps Rutgers, and TCU reconsiders its decision to join this BCS conference in 2012.

The instability has created the growing possibility that the basketball-only schools could seek a split from the football-playing schools in this massive 17-team league and put the wheels in motion to form their own Catholic league, hoping they have enough clout to negotiate a decent TV deal with ESPN.

Yeah. Good luck with that. The article also notes that the non-football members are really deficient in the negotiations and well, much of everything these days.

Oh, and that ESPN extension that Pitt was abruptly blamed for the Big East not taking a couple months ago? Yeah. Pitt fought it, but hardly without some bi-partisan support.

Presidents from Georgetown, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Seton Hall voted against the deal, sources said. Others, including Pittsburgh and West Virginia, also were vocal skeptics of the deal, preferring to wait and see what the open market would bring once ESPN’s deals ended, following the 2013-14 football season. Still, the presidents voted 12-4 to accept its broad outlines.

Four weeks later, just a week after a record-breaking deal for the Pac-10’s media rights was announced, the Big East’s presidents met again. Not surprisingly, they needed only 15 minutes to reach a unanimous decision to reject ESPN’s offer.

Go figure.

Speaking of Notre Dame. Some truly astounding comments from the ND AD.

“I don’t understand it,” Jack Swarbrick said as a new round of conference hopping in college athletics moved into high gear Sunday. “How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you’re affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy, as presidents like to call it?

“I’d like to know how much of these discussions are: What’s right? What is the best thing for the larger enterprise, and how many other schools would be adversely impacted?

“I just don’t know that that’s happening.”

I’m sorry. Notre Dame bothered that another school looked out for its own interests ahead of a conference or others? Let’s just say that I’m going to slightly discount that statement.

No doubt, though, Swarbrick is concerned. After all, Pitt and Syracuse just adversely impacted his school. The Big East is questionable in a future. If Swarbrick dares to push the Irish towards a full conference affiliation, he will be unemployed before it happens. If he doesn’t, he will likely see a steady downgrade of the non-football sports — including basketball — with diminished national conference association. Why? Oh, why couldn’t Pitt and Syracuse think of Notre Dame others?

Then there is poor, poor Texas. At least that’s the way they see themselves after the ACC didn’t bite and blocked them with Pitt and Syracuse.

That source said Texas’ top priority remains trying to hold the Big 12 together. But that option may have been dealt a blow with Pitt now appearing headed to the ACC. Pitt was a target of the Big 12 after it became clear Texas A&M wanted out of the league, sources have told caught up with Texas president Bill Powers outside the Rose Bowl Saturday, and Powers said, “We are not going to comment until all of this is over.”

Another Big 12 administrator told the ACC appears as if it is moving on without Texas in its plans.

That Big 12 administrator said the ACC is reluctant to bring in Texas for three reasons: 1) how the Longhorn Network would be worked into its revenue sharing; 2) that the ACC sees itself as an east coast conference and wants to protect that by not reaching into the southwest (no matter how much TV money adding Texas would mean); and 3) Texas indicated to the ACC it would need to bring Texas Tech with them to the ACC, and the ACC members were not excited about that because of Texas Tech’s academic standing (No. 160 in latest U.S. News and World Report).

Yes Texas spin is still going with that story line that Pitt was a Big 12 target. I suppose it was possible. It could explain why the ACC was so eager to accept Pitt. But, nah. Texas is more upset because they saw the ACC as their chance to get into a good conference and keep their Longhorn Network.

Multiple sources said Texas was banking on ESPN to make a marriage between the ACC and Texas that would allow the Longhorns to keep LHN. But that appears to have failed, the sources said. was the first to report Saturday that the ACC was concerned about how LHN would fit into its revenue sharing; sees itself as an east coast conference and wasn’t interested in extending into the southwest (no matter how much TV money adding Texas would mean); and had concerns about the academics of Texas Tech, whom UT would be under pressure politically to bring with them wherever UT went.

UT president Bill Powers and athletic director DeLoss Dodds told people inside the athletic department last week the ACC was Texas’ best option if the Big 12 fell apart. Now, Texas is looking at the Pac-12.

Their grand dream of having ESPN bribe the ACC to accept the deal didn’t work. Now, despite all efforts to the contrary, Texas is inching closer to yielding on the Longhorn Network and going to the Pac-12/16.

If the Pac-16 does happen, then it becomes more likely that the ACC will not wait long to add two more teams of its own. Hello, UConn and Rutgers. Good to see you again.

Whatever happens now, though, for the first time in nearly a decade, Pitt has moved to solid conference footing.

While my main rooting interest is Pitt, I also have an interest in TCU and Baylor. I was hoping to see Pitt on a regular basis here in the Fort Worth area. Anyway, my prediction is that the Big 12 and BE leftovers will indeed merge. And I think the BE basketball schools will separate from the pack, but will still retain the name “Big East.”
But as it pertains to the “leftover league,” I don’t see why it’s all that bad. UCF has deserved AQ status for a while, based on their immense resources, market, and potential. So if a league ends up being TCU, Ville, Cincy, WVU, USF, UCF, Kansas, K State, Baylor, and Iowa State… well it’s certainly not any worse than what the BE looks like right now in football (without TCU just yet). Furthermore, the leftover league could offer AQ status to BYU, and then add perhaps Houston to get to 12. So I don’t think WVU really falls on its face the way we think they would. They’d be in a winnable league, but still one with solid football and really good hoops. Plus inroads to Texas and Florida. I’m sure we can all chuckle at WVU getting left out, but it’s not really a doomsday scenario compared to what they have at the moment.

Comment by Lollard 09.19.11 @ 9:44 pm

Let me put it this way it sucks to be rutgers and connecticut banging on the door hopeing some one lets them in and it really sucks to be WVU who cant even see a door. but oh my it fills good to have goin thru the door and to be inside like PITT screw them all we are in the ACC we got our seat at the big dance.

Comment by FRANKCAN 09.19.11 @ 9:48 pm

But to tell the truth i do fell bad for WVU i was hopeing they could go to the SEC i would have benn pissed if they went to sec and we stayed in big east . But now i feel bad for them.

Comment by FRANKCAN 09.19.11 @ 9:59 pm

Nice piece that makes a ton of sense but very unlikely. How nice would that be? Schedule WVU non-con and we’re in dream land…

link to

Comment by FG 09.19.11 @ 10:20 pm

BTW if he had any integrity he would have fessed up about the Backyard Brawl 13-9 when the refs tried to give the game to WVU.
Comment by giveitarest 09.19.11 @ 9:12 pm

You’ve got to be kidding me !

Comment by melvinbennett 09.19.11 @ 10:43 pm

@ FG,

I’m thinking the Big 4 will have 2 BCS slots each.
Don’t know about the MWC, and whoever else.

Comment by melvinbennett 09.19.11 @ 10:46 pm

honestly I think WVU knows where it’s going already.

WVU has been extremely quiet during this whole thing.

It would be odd to not hear them scream bloody murder if they were afraid of being left out in the cold.

They have a home somewhere, my guess is the SEC is a done deal.


Comment by DaveD 09.19.11 @ 11:02 pm


According to sources WVU was one of 10 teams that applied to the ACC and of course they said…

Thanks, but no thanks.

Don’t think the SEC is a done deal, from what I’ve read. WVU would be the worst academic school in the SEC (hard to believe, with those schools). Also they don’t bring many TV sets, no recruiting area and it’s not a major media market.

Comment by melvinbennett 09.19.11 @ 11:36 pm

I just want to make a point that I think no one has made yet. If the BE is going to merge with the Big12 remnants or any other leftovers (KU, KSU, ISU, Miz, ECU, UCF, etc), that is going to happen in less than 27 months. There is no way they let Pitt and ‘Cuse hang around while they try to make new divisions and make schedules. I predict Pitt will be in the ACC next year. At the latest, 2013. No way it ever gets to 2014.

Comment by The Incline 09.19.11 @ 11:40 pm

@The Incline, (btw are you the Mon Incline or the Duquesne Incline?)

Agree, the BigEast(football) conference won’t be around in 27 months, therefore PITT will be in the ACC earlier than the 27. Also I wonder if the BigEast football doesn’t exist, do we stll have to pay the $5 million exit fee?

Comment by melvinbennett 09.20.11 @ 1:05 am


You could be right, I just would’ve expected a lot more negativity coming from Morgantown than we are hearing.

That makes me think they got something going on.


Comment by DaveD 09.20.11 @ 1:39 am

I just would’ve expected a lot more negativity coming from Morgantown than we are hearing.

That makes me think they got something going on.


Trust me, they are crying down there. My brother in law is a hoopie and he has been texting me since Saturday. He is literally sick to his stomach, unable to eat, unable to sleep. He is terrified that WVU is getting screwed- as are the WVU message boards, according to him. And their academics really are a problem. I think it is probably more than just academics. Look at their basketball coach- Bob Thuggins. Next to Calipari, he is the most hated coach by the entire NCAA. Then their football coach has made quite a name for himself as a drinker. Not really the best PR when trying to align with a conference like the ACC that cares about reputation.

Comment by kanyon40 09.20.11 @ 2:05 am

wow, one heck of an article. great detective work. plain as day when you take the time to slow down, look at the facts and realise that those who criticize are probably kicking themselves for not making this move themselves. The BE in football had no weight to throw around, and no bowls or money to offer decent teams, so this is a great proactive move.

Comment by dbicker 09.20.11 @ 7:06 am

Heard Mike DeCourcy on the Fan last night. He may be a good basketball writer, but is dead wrong on his assertion that this is the beginning of the end for Pitt hoops.

His basic argument is; Pitt rose to prominence in college hoops because of (in order) “The brilliance of Jamie Dixon, The Pete and The Big East.” – TRUE, and let’s give Howland some credit too.

He goes on to say that moving to the ACC would, or at least could, cause Jamie Dixon to become less attached to Pitt and to be more apt to look at other opportunities. – FALSE, he presented NO EVIDENCE or REASONING as to why that would be.

He went on to say that being in the Big East was great for recruiting and the ACC might not be. – FALSE, Jamie and his staff are GREAT at finding players who fit at Pitt and who they can convince to come here. When Slice left, all the national writers were sure Pitt recruiting would take a hit because we wouldn’t own the Bronx anymore. How did that work out? Kids want to win, be on TV and have a shot at the pro’s. With Pitt and the ‘cuse, the ACC leaps the Big East as the BEST basketball conference in the NCAA, period. No negative impact on recruiting.

There is no reason to think moving to the ACC will negatively impact Dixon’s job satisfaction at Pitt. Jamie has about the best situation imaginable at Pitt. The pipe is full of talent, he has great facilities, he’s in a great conference and he has the support of the administration. Why would he leave? But SMug Smile Steve and Nordy better BUCK UP and pay Dixon with some of their new ill gotten financial gains – just to be sure.

For the record, Big East basketball is one of the best things in all of sports. Seeing it be dismantled and Pitt/Cuse no longer be a part of it is really sad.

But it isn’t the end of Pitt Hoops as we know it.

Comment by boubacar aw 09.20.11 @ 11:12 am

I like the move better by the day because I think that there is a chance that PSU could be coming into the ACC with us. The Big Ten will keep going to the Midwest and they might lose financially in the short term, in the long term we might be able to surpass the Big Ten TV contract. Plus throw in the fact that Swarbrick just said that the ACC is more attractive to them and things r looking so good right now.

Comment by Alex P 09.20.11 @ 11:22 am

Alex ps would never leave big 10 get over your dream.

Comment by FRANKCAN 09.20.11 @ 12:56 pm

WVU is paying the price for its academic ranking. One reason is that they take in state students over out of state, even if they are not qualified, especially at grad school level.
Also would love to see ND shut out, if they had come into Big East as full member, I think it could have survived and drawn more quality schools in, but they had to keep their network going, and basically said screw you to the conference, I would have kicked them out for bball a long time ago.

Comment by Jimbo 09.20.11 @ 1:08 pm

Army & Navy to ACC!

Comment by Justin 09.21.11 @ 3:23 am

[…] doubt it. Just as silly scare articles from some last year about how Pitt basketball could suffer with a move to the ACC, were too conclusory or trying to make too broad a […]

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