Long-awaited entrance into ACC comes today for Pitt

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A move almost two years in the making finally comes to fruition today as Pitt becomes an official member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Panthers, along with fellow former Big East Conference members Syracuse and Notre Dame, join their new conference today.

It's purely a clerical move at this point -- Pitt ended its active tenure in the Big East May 25 when the baseball team was knocked out of the conference tournament -- but the move still symbolizes a step forward and, in some ways, a fresh start for Pitt athletics.

Most significantly, the ACC will be a stable conference home for the Panthers, something the Big East did not provide the past four years.

"We tried to keep everybody [in the Big East] together and make some longer-term commitments, because at that point nobody could guarantee what was going to happen or where you might go," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said recently. "We were the ones saying, 'Hey, let's lock arms here and sort this out.' But we could never get a full commitment from the people that had to be committed to this to make it happen."

With the Big East collapsing around him, Pederson looked to the ACC as an option for Pitt and announced the move in September 2011 after a furious few weeks of discussions with ACC commissioner John Swofford.

As the 12 current ACC schools officially welcome three new members today, Pederson said he feels right at home with his new conference compatriots.

"We're not a huge Land Grant university with 75,000 students. That's just not what we are.

"We tend to fit more along the lines of [ACC members] Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia. We're a little more similar institutionally," he said.

In addition to the stability afforded by the league's grant of media rights, which effectively ensures no schools leave the conference until at least 2027, the ACC move will provide Pitt with a windfall in television revenue.

The league signed a 15-year, $3.6 billion contract with ESPN last year, with each school taking home roughly $17 million per year. By comparison, Pitt received $3,125,000 per year in the final years of its Big East television contract.

Next year, all of Pitt's varsity sports teams will be funded with full allotments of scholarships with the exception of men's soccer. Pitt's baseball team, for example, played this season using 9.3 of the 11.7 scholarships it is allotted. Next year, they will have the entire 11.7.

"We're not going to change dramatically how we do things, but scholarship funding and so forth does make a difference in terms of how many players you have on your team, and probably the quality of players you have on your team," Pederson said. "I think everybody's going to be at a great competitive advantage."

The Panthers' ACC entrance will be celebrated today in New York as Swofford and representatives from the three new schools ring the closing bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange and welcome the league's new schools.

Pitt also will hold a local party to celebrate its entrance to the ACC tonight at Stage AE on the North Shore. Admission is free for the event, which starts at 8 p.m. with fireworks at 9:30 and will feature an appearance from former Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

NOTE -- Pitt football landed a verbal commitment Sunday from Davie, Fla., quarterback Wade Freebeck. He is rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com and chose the Panthers over offers from South Florida, Marshall and Akron. He is the 13th member of Pitt's 2014 recruiting class and second quarterback, joining Ohio product Adam Bertke.

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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