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September 29, 2011

Move to ACC conference explained

accJoining a national trend of conference realignment by NCAA programs, Pitt this month hopped on the merry-go-round by withdrawing its affiliation with the Big East conference in favor of joining the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Big East colleague Syracuse University is joining Pitt in the move to the ACC, becoming that conference’s 13th and 14th members. Both schools will compete in all NCAA sports in the ACC.

The announcement of the conference change initially was made by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and athletics director Steve Pederson at a Sept. 18 press teleconference that included the ACC commissioner.

Pitt’s Board of Trustees executive committee made the move official Sept. 23. At that meeting, Nordenberg explained the sequence of events leading to Pitt’s conference realignment decision. “During the regularly scheduled meeting of this committee, held [Sept. 16], most of our time was devoted to a consideration of athletic conference realignment possibilities,” Nordenberg said.

“However,” he continued, “because matters had arisen so quickly, we were unable to publish the notice required to hold a public meeting and as a result the committee was not positioned to take formal action. Since that meeting, Pitt has received an invitation, unanimously supported by the members of its Presidents Council, to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.”

Pitt trustees then unanimously approved the move to the ACC.

Under Big East regulations, a member institution leaving the conference must give 27 months’ notice and pay a $5 million exit fee, guidelines Pitt will honor, University officials said.

Under that timeframe, Pitt and Syracuse could begin competing in all sports in the ACC in spring 2014.

However, the timetable could be shortened by the Big East, if, for example, the conference found replacement institutions for Pitt and Syracuse.

At the Sept. 18 press conference, Nordenberg said Pitt would lobby the Big East for a reduction in the waiting period.

This is not the first time Big East members jumped to the ACC. In 2004 and 2005, Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech changed conferences, moves decried by Nordenberg at the time.

But the chancellor said at the Sept. 18 press conference that the NCAA conference landscape had changed significantly in the intervening years.

“Back in 2003, the notion that three members of one conference might move to another really did send shock waves through the world of intercollegiate athletics. Today … every major conference has been affected by realignment,” Nordenberg said.

“Any university leader involved in intercollegiate athletics really has two fundamental responsibilities,” he said. “One is to work to build strength in a current conference home, which we at the University of Pittsburgh always have done in the Big East.

“Second is to be appropriately attentive to the changing landscape and institutional opportunities that might need to be pursued. … We also made it very clear [to Big East officials] if other opportunities did arise we would feel as if we were obligated to [consider] them.”

Nordenberg and Pederson cited as reasons for the conference move the academic prestige of ACC member institutions and Pitt’s history of research collaboration with many of them, as well as the geographic advantages of recruiting and competing in the major media markets of Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Current members of the ACC conference are Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.bigeast

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 3

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