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Teel Time: ACC addition of Pitt, Syracuse symbolizes panic, mistrust in college sports

FootballCollege SportsAtlantic Coast ConferenceCollege BasketballSyracuse OrangePittsburgh PanthersBig East Conference

John Swofford on Sunday called the ACC’s acquisition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh “monumental.” Talk about terra firma for the commissioner.

The conference’s expansion to 14 schools was stunning in its speed and secrecy. It creates immeasurable amounts of ill will in the Big East and profoundly affects college sports’ national landscape.

But does monumental equate to great? Were Saturday’s unanimous vote by ACC presidents and Sunday’s announcement great events for a conference that has doubled in size since 1982 and may yet grow again?

As in more cases than we care to admit, there are no absolutes, and answers hinge not only on one’s perspective but also on a future that is folly to forecast.

For those of us raised on ACC basketball, this is ideal. The league’s cornerstone sport has sagged markedly of late, and the Big East’s Syracuse and Pittsburgh are superior to every ACC program except Duke andNorth Carolina.

Yes, with 14 teams minimum, future schedules and conference tournaments -- Swofford said he could see the ACC tournament at Madison Square Garden -- will be awkward. But they’ve been that way since the ACC expanded beyond nine schools and abandoned double-round robin basketball scheduling.

Football, the force behind every conference realignment of the past decade, is another matter. Pitt and Syracuse are decades removed from their national primes of Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Jim Brown andDonovan McNabb.

But the Panthers and Orange extend the ACC’s reach into the Northeast, removing Boston College from geographic exile and leading Swofford to assure that re-negotiated television deals with ESPN will increase the conference’s per-school revenue, presently at about $13 million annually.

Moreover, absent Oklahoma and/or Texas, no marquee football programs are looking to summon Mayflower. The Sooners are smitten with the Pacific 12, while the Longhorns’ independent television network would be problematic for the ACC, which, to use Swofford’s word, considers its equal distribution of TV revenue “sacred.”

As well it should. Conferences that don’t share equally are prone to splinter, witness the Big 12. 

Finally, Pitt and Syracuse mesh comfortably into the ACC’s academic profile – top 100 universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report – a fit not to be dismissed when campus presidents are making decisions.

But football scheduling for 14, or 16, is more baffling than for basketball. Depending on the model, a player could complete his eligibility without having competed against some conference teams.

The ACC hasn’t settled on scheduling because conference officials don’t know when Syracuse and Pitt are moving. Big East bylaws require 27 months’ notice, but we know how that works: Stroke a bigger check and don’t let the door hit you in the fanny.

Could the Panthers and Orange be on board by the 2012 football season? My hunch is no, but 2013 certainly is conceivable.

Naturally, Swofford soft-shoed around whether the ACC would eventually expand to 16. USA Today and others report that Connecticut and Rutgers, also of the Big East, are possibilities, the latter of which offers little football or basketball value.

Stubbornly independent Notre Dame is every commissioner’s expansion dream date, but absent the Irish or a suddenly accommodating Texas – sure, Wake Forest, here’s a pile of Longhorn Network cash – it’s difficult to see any sound reasons for further growth.

But as Swofford said, schools are searching for stability, and to convince his own membership of the ACC’s long-term viability, and to prevent defections to, say, the Southeastern Conference, Swofford probably felt compelled to act rather than react.

And make no mistake, this was and is a Swofford production. Stung by a 2003 expansion that was public, prolonged and contentious, he shepherded changes to ACC bylaws that eliminated cumbersome steps such as on-campus visits to prospective members.

Hence, this process was the antithesis of 2003: stealth, quick and unanimous. No one saw this coming until Friday, remarkable given today’s media saturation.

Here's how silly secretive this was/is: The ACC won't identify the 12 members -- one from each school -- of its expansion committee. They were four presidents, four ADs and four faculty reps.  

Syracuse embodies that change. The Orange, along with Miami ad Boston College, agreed to join the ACC in 2003, and conference officials traveled to campus and publicly extolled its virtues. But then-University of Virginia president John Casteen, pressured by politicians at home, refused to endorse any expansion that didn’t includeVirginia Tech.

So long Carrier Dome, hello Lane Stadium.

Syracuse was humiliated, but with a different chancellor and athletic director now, hard feelings were minimal.

That is not the case in the Big East, where colleagues are livid at Syracuse and Pitt. Indeed, by the time this round of shuffling is complete, Big East football may vanish. Ditto the Big 12.

That’s sad. Conference realignment isn’t based on logical and rivalries and geography. It’s fueled by fear, mistrust and panic.

Darwin would applaud Swofford and the ACC.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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