Pitt’s TV windfall pays fast dividend

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During Pitt’s transition to the ACC, one of the biggest benefits cited by the athletic department was the television windfall the school would receive in its new conference.

Indeed, the ACC’s 15-year, $3.6 billion football contract with ESPN ensured the Panthers more than triple what they were earning in the Big East. Pitt’s annual share is about $17 million.

After almost a full year in the new conference, where has that money gone? Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said he decided to put it in the hands of the people who knew best what various sports needed to be successful.

“Basically, what we did at this point with additional revenue is we’ve let the coaches put that into their recruiting budgets and their travel and competition budgets,” Pederson said in a meeting with reporters earlier this month.

“We tried to make sure that our coaches had enough money to recruit the way they felt they needed to recruit, and so they got significant increases in their recruiting budgets — some cases more than others — then also in their travel and competition budgets so that they could go to meets and games that they needed to play or bring teams in here that they wanted to play.”

The money also has, at least partially, allowed Pitt to make capital improvements to facilities for its flagship sports. This summer, the men’s and women’s basketball team areas in Petersen Events Center are undergoing a renovation. The football weight room at Pitt’s South Side facility also is getting a significant expansion.

The latter change came at the behest of coach Paul Chryst, who wanted to have more players in the weight room at one time. Once the renovation is complete, the whole team will be able to cycle through the weight room in two shifts, rather than three.

“You’ve got the legislative number of hours, then you’ve got [the fact] that I think our kids are the busiest kids on campus,” Chryst said at the ACC’s spring meetings in Florida last week. “If we can do anything to be more efficient with the time, that’s good.”

New bowl system

As college football moves into the playoff era this season, the ACC has revamped its bowl system.

Rather than have a predetermined slotting system for the bowls below the host bowls (the games formerly known as Bowl Championship Series games), the ACC’s bowl partnerships have been grouped into tiers.

The Belk Bowl, Pinstripe Bowl, Sun Bowl, TaxSlayer Bowl and Music City Bowl are known as the league’s “tier one” bowls. The Military Bowl, Independence Bowl and new Detroit Lions bowl game make up a secondary tier. Within each group, the bowl-eligible ACC teams will be matched with the best fit, in terms of location, opponent and past bowl trips.

“We’re trying to avoid repeats,” Pederson said. “We’re trying to avoid somebody being sent clear across the country where it doesn’t make sense. By pooling these bowls, you’re going to be able to put the logical team in the logical place against a logical opponent.”

One benefit, hopefully, will be avoiding the situation Pitt found itself in from 2010-12, when the Panthers went to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., three years in a row.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league and its bowl representatives went through some mock selection proceedings at the league’s meetings.

“Hopefully, that will be a real positive thing in terms of the success of the games, geographically, competitively and staying away from a team going back to the same place in consecutive years,” Swofford said.

Football scheduling update

One of the caveats in the ACC’s new scheduling policy announced this week is that starting in 2017, league teams must play one non-conference football game against a team from one of the other five power conferences — Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and American Athletic.

The Panthers have a four-game series with Penn State scheduled from 2016-19, and Pederson was optimistic that the intrastate rivalry with the Big Ten team might continue beyond that.

“I hope we can continue to keep that going forward,” Pederson said. “[Penn State athletic director] Dave Joyner and I continue to have conversations.”

The Panthers also have a two-game non-conference series with Oklahoma State (Big 12) scheduled in 2016 and 2017.

One team not likely to return to Pitt’s schedule in the near future is former rival West Virginia (Big 12). Pederson said he has not had any substantive discussions with Mountaineers athletic director Oliver Luck about reviving the Backyard Brawl.


Former Pitt cornerback K’Waun Williams signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns Tuesday after participating in the team’s rookie minicamp as a tryout. Williams joined safety Jason Hendricks (Browns), defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell (Houston Texans) and punter Matt Yoklic (Atlanta Falcons) as former Panthers who landed NFL contracts as undrafted free agents. Ezell, however, already has been released.

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

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