- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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It would be hopelessly naive to assume Syracuse and Pittsburgh's respective decisions to join the ACC were made in haste. But they certainly felt hasty, didn't they? Prior to Sunday morning's announcement, neither school gave much indication that they were interested in leaving the Big East -- let alone that they had completed the ACC admissions process and were ready to join the league as soon as the Big East was willing to let them go. Judging by the staggered reaction from the Big East office, this came as a surprise to the conference itself, too.
For its part, Syracuse had been mulling the move for quite some time. Orange athletic director Daryl Gross joined Syracuse radio affiliate The Score 1260 to discuss the move and the planning behind it. In case you were wondering, no, this wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing. From Gross's interview:
“I think it’s been a long, long, long process. When I say long, let me put some time-frame on it. When you go back to when the Big Ten announced and made a formal announcement that they were going to evaluate their conference, I think that was a time where folks started to do some self-evaluation of their own institutions. … When you start thinking about all the topics in college athletics, budgets not balancing, and those types of things, everybody’s looking at the long-term. …
"We’ve been doing this for a long time and we came to the conclusion that we were well-prepared to either enhance our own conference or we would be attractive for someone else if something started to move in the country. … It’s tough leaving the Big East and the history there, but it’s going to be a different world when we wake up in the next few months here. I think it’s great we were proactive and able to move fast.”
In other words, Syracuse had been considering the idea of a conference switch since all the way back in 2010 when the Big Ten kicked off this two-pronged wave of modern conference realignment. Does that mean the move wasn't in some ways sparked by panic? I think that's still fair. After all, if the ACC is so appetizing, and the possibility of movement has been around this long, why didn't this happen in 2010? Because Texas and Oklahoma weren't thinking about the Pac-16? Because those schools thought the Big East would be around forever? Maybe. Maybe not. But something caused Syracuse and Pittsburgh to make this decision now, and that something was almost certainly a feeling of vulnerability and tenuous status as good-but-not-great expansion offerings vis a vis football and market size.
Oh, and speaking of which, Gross says Syracuse had no idea Pittsburgh was attempting to join the ACC, too.
“We did this individually. They weren’t aware of us; we weren’t aware of them. Not until the end.”
More importantly, the above was also true of everyone at the Big East offices. Syracuse was considering the move for at least a year, but the Big East was still caught off guard by the announcement on Sunday morning. It's a disastrous oversight. It's also an ugly statement on the level of respect and trust that existed between the league and two of its most prominent members, one of which is a charter member. And now the same league officials are stuck trying to pick up the pieces. Rough weekend, that.