- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami did the dirty work. They’re the ones who made the Big East angry -- so angry that BC and Connecticut still haven’t played each other since the Eagles left to join the ACC. They’re the ones who were mired in acrimony, tangled up in lawsuits, and portrayed as the Big East’s Benedict Arnold (who, ironically, was born in Connecticut).
Pitt and Syracuse?
They’re practically tap-dancing out of the Big East.
“It was a tumultuous time for everybody,” said one ACC source who was involved in the first expansion. “People didn’t know there was going to be this much turmoil and griping. It was unprecedented in that time. Everybody has changed now. In 2003, it was new. Three teams were leaving. You go back and look at the newspapers, it was all anyone talked about for the months of May, June, July. It was huge. No conference had ever done anything like that.
“It’s easier for Pitt and Syracuse because they’re coming into a league where three other teams have already broken it in.”
Having gone through expansion before, with the additions of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the ACC had a blueprint for Round 2, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse had footsteps to follow. This time, though, was vastly different. Ten years ago, the news of three teams leaving the Big East was shocking. Now, it’s more surprising to hear of anyone who’s staying in the Big East. The ACC’s first round of expansion was a messy trio of divorces with enough lawsuits to fill TruTV. This time, Pitt and Cuse were just following the national trend. The ACC’s first round of expansion was a dramatic, shocking blow to the Big East. This time, the Big East was already doubled over.
The change in circumstances both within the conferences and within the entire national college football landscape has made for a much smoother transition. The ACC has since changed its bylaws and no longer requires campus visits to approve potential expansion candidates; the conference turned to a committee comprised of presidents, athletic directors and faculty representatives to discuss the pros and cons of further expansion and possible candidates.
“Certainly there were things we learned from the first time around that made the next time more fluid and more efficient,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “It did happen very smoothly. It was internally unanimous, and that always contributes to a smooth transition internally, and I think, too, the landscape nationally changed a great deal from when we expanded the first time to the more recent expansions.”
Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson said there has been no animosity from the Big East.
“The institutions of the Big East have been very good in their dealings with us,” he said. “We haven’t gone to environments where the kids were put in a tough spot, or were uncomfortable. Everyone has been good. Of course, everyone is going their own way a little bit. It’s hard to be too judgmental when you’re leaving, too.”
When the ACC announced it would add Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league on July 1, 2013, the first person to call Pederson was the late, former Miami athletic director Paul Dee, a good friend who had once successfully led his athletic department through the same move almost a decade earlier.
As the transition began, Pederson continued to seek advice from Dee and Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, also a very good friend.
“It was kind of interesting to talk to somebody who now wasn’t in the heart of it,” Pederson said of Dee. “He was hearkening back to the transitional period of time. He was very helpful in that way. We talked a lot about just about every issue you could think of. Those two were very helpful, and to some extent, they were very helpful in navigating the remaining time in the league, too.”
That time is quickly coming to an end, as Pittsburgh will join the ACC’s Coastal Division and Syracuse will join the Atlantic Division this summer. Both schools have been attending conference meetings for two years. Pederson said he was at the ACC’s winter meetings in January 2012, and last month. He raved about the reception they have gotten from the league office and its members, calling them “organized,” “professional” and “first-rate.”
“There’s probably not an athletic director in the ACC I haven’t been able to ask a little advice and counsel of as we do this,” Pederson said. “We’re joining their league. I think we bring value and unique things to the league, but this has been a long-term, successful league. We’re joining them. We want to make sure we’re doing this the right way.”
This time, both the ACC and Big East have found a way to do it better.
5dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna