For money and basketball
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When it comes to conference realignment, the first rule is to follow the money. The changing landscape of college sports has been and will continue to be about revenue streams generated by football.
That was the case once again when Pitt and Syracuse chose to depart the Big East for the greener pastures of the Atlantic Coast Conference. It was announced this week that both schools will officially join the ACC next July.
But unlike other big moves in realignment over the past several years, the ACC's decision to cherry-pick Pitt and Syracuse has different undertones.
When the ACC recruited Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech in 2003, it was done with the sole purpose of strengthening a struggling football conference. The ACC saw immediate dividends when Virginia Tech won the ACC title in its first season in the league. The Hokies have won four ACC titles in their eight seasons in the ACC.
Boston College has appeared in two ACC title games and Miami has consistently been a strong team in the league with only three losing seasons in league play since 2004.
No one is expecting similar results with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, two schools that have struggled in recent years to compete in the Big East. Rather, the biggest benefit for the ACC in this round of realignment is what the Panthers and Orange will do for men's basketball in the conference.
Pitt has won more games overall and in conference play in the past 10 years than any other team in the Big East. Syracuse isn't far behind.
The Panthers and Orange helped the Big East become one of college basketball's premier conferences, and now they're likely to strengthen a conference with four championships in the last decade, but no teams in the Final Four in the past two years.
"The ACC has had a tremendous history in college basketball," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. "You're talking about adding Pitt and Syracuse, and it becomes pretty formidable. A lot of people think it will be about as great a conference as you can imagine.
"If Syracuse continues to be good, we continue to be good ... obviously, you have Duke and Carolina. Maryland will be back. It's going to be something else to watch. I can't imagine who would come into this building that you wouldn't be ecstatic to see."
Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver saw the Hokies through their transition from the Big East to the ACC in 2004. He said the addition of Pitt and Syracuse promotes a different dynamic.
"We weren't looking for a basketball power or a football power," Weaver said. "We were looking for the right fit institutionally. It just so happens Pitt and Syracuse are outstanding academic institutions with terrific basketball programs. When you look at Pitt, what they've done with the basketball program over the past 10 years is nothing short of outstanding."
Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College have all struggled to compete in men's basketball since joining the ACC. Weaver fired his coach, Seth Greenberg, this spring after the Hokies missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season. Miami's last NCAA tournament appearance also came in 2007 and Boston College's in '09.
"Pitt and Syracuse are very well prepared coming out of Big East basketball," Weaver said. "I would suspect both would be formidable right out of the gate. We never even made the Big East tournament until our final season in the league. It's a whole different dynamic with Pitt and Syracuse. I certainly think they'll be extremely competitive in their inaugural seasons."
Where does that leave Pitt football? The Panthers own just one Big East football championship, which came as a result of a tiebreaker in 2004 after four teams finished with identical 4-2 conference records.
Syracuse has endured struggles on the football field as well, and it's hard to imagine a scenario in which either will be competing for ACC championships in their first few seasons in the league.
It appears to be the exact opposite of the 2004 ACC realignment. Now, even though football remains the driving force behind conference shifts, the impact that Pitt and Syracuse provide in men's basketball is of greater significance.
"The tradition of Pitt and Syracuse football is exceptional," Pederson said. "Probably the combination of football and basketball made both us pretty appealing to the ACC. Even though in football we haven't had as much success as we would like, you're still talking about Larry Fitzgerald, Dan Marino, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett. And then you talk about Jim Brown and Ernie Davis and Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney at Syracuse. It's pretty unbelievable."
It's also in the past. In the future, starting with the 2013-14 season, the ACC will be in position to establish its place as college basketball's preeminent men's basketball conference. When it's all said and done, the 2013 realignment is likely to be about that more than anything else.
First Published July 20, 2012 12:00 am