Report: Pitt, Syracuse accepted to ACC

Updated: September 18, 2011, 4:08 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Atlantic Coast Conference has received application letters from Pittsburgh and Syracuse to join the league, a move that would leave the Big East scrambling to replace two of its longest-tenured members.

Florida State president Eric Barron told The Associated Press on Saturday before the Seminoles played No. 1 Oklahoma that the ACC was excited about adding to its "northern tier."

Krzyzewski Whether everyone agrees with it or doesn't agree with it -- change is happening. It's not a revolution, it's evolution. These things are happening.

-- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski

"Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who have applied, these are solid academic schools, and the ACC is a truly academic conference," Barron said. "Certainly great basketball teams, a good history of football.

"I'm sure consideration will be very fast. I'll be surprised if it's not tomorrow (Sunday)."

But USA Today reported early Sunday that the ACC presidents had already voted on Saturday morning to accept Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the league. Citing an anonymous source, the newspaper said the ACC was still considering adding two other East Coast teams and that Connecticut and Rutgers would be the candidates.

ACC officials have scheduled a 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday teleconference but did not disclose the subject of the call.

Barron confirmed that 11 of 12 ACC presidents attended a meeting in Greensboro, N.C., on Tuesday -- the other participated by phone -- and unanimously approved raising the exit fee to $20 million -- up from $12 million to $14 million -- for any member leaving the conference.

"The great thing is that the conference is strong and committed to a unanimous commitment to staying together," North Carolina State chancellor Randy Woodson said. "And to the extent that this is kind of a dramatic shift in conferences, we're trying to be proactive and stay strong."

A high-ranking ACC official told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Saturday morning that Pitt and Syracuse were part of at least 10 schools that approached the ACC about membership.

Multiple sources told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that Pittsburgh and Syracuse's applications to the ACC happened fast, within the last 48 hours.

One source who was briefed on the situation told Katz, "There is panic. There is panic about what league (Syracuse) was going to be in."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was thrilled with the potential additions.

"I'm proud of the leadership of our conference to be ahead of things," Krzyzewski told ESPN.com's Katz on Saturday night. "We're in a period of change. Whether everyone agrees with it or doesn't agree with it -- change is happening. It's not a revolution, it's evolution. These things are happening.

"The NBA had the ABA. The NFL had the AFL. There was once no BCS. The NIT was once better than the NCAA (tournament). When it happens while you're doing it, it seems like it shouldn't happen, but it is. I think the leadership in our conference is doing a great job of getting ahead. It's good thinking, especially if everything goes down with these two schools that have great athletic programs. They are unbelievable fits for our conference."

Big East commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement that he was "disappointed" by both school's potential departure, but maintained his faith in the conference as a whole.

"We have been working steadily to solidify and strengthen the BIG EAST Conference and position us for our upcoming TV negotiations and I am confident that we will again emerge from this situation and remain strong," the statement said.

The Big East was close to signing a contract extension for its television rights with ESPN this year, walking away from a nine-year deal that reportedly was worth about $1 billion.

Marinatto said in August that the Big East felt it was in a position of strength as the last major football conference to negotiate a deal because there would be more bidders on the market with NBC expanding its cable presence and Fox becoming more involved in college football.

This is familiar territory for the ACC, which added former Big East teams Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College in 2004 and 2005 to get to its current 12-member format. Should it happen again, this move would likely be even far more difficult for the Big East to overcome.

Three sources associated with the Big East told ESPN.com they believe Pitt and Syracuse are gone and one of the sources questioned the stability of the conference going forward.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Pitt's move as definite. A story posted on the newspaper's website said an announcement could come as soon as Saturday.

For schools to leave the Big East, they must pay $5 million and give 27 months' notice. However, Big East sources told ESPN.com's Katz the 27 months notice is negotiable.

The New York Times first reported on Friday night that the ACC was in talks with Syracuse and Pittsburgh about leaving the Big East to join the league.

High-level officials at both schools kept the conversations with the ACC quiet, not telling their coaches about the move until Saturday, sources told ESPN.com's Katz.

Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim and Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon were asked by the schools not to comment on the situation late Saturday afternoon, sources told Katz.

A jump by Pittsburgh and Syracuse could lead to another dramatic shuffle in college athletics. Texas A&M already has announced its intention to join the Southeastern Conference, leaving the future of the Big 12 in doubt. The board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas are meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of the universities leaving that conference.

Baylor and Iowa State have already reached out to the Big East as a backup in case the Big 12 falls apart, ESPN.com's Katz reported.

Syracuse is a founding member of the Big East, and Pittsburgh joined the league in 1982.

Pittsburgh spokesman E.J. Borghetti said athletic director Steve Pederson also wouldn't comment. Syracuse AD Daryl Gross also declined comment.

News of a possible Big East upheaval came on the heels of the death of its founder, Dave Gavitt, who died Friday night after a long illness.

Former Syracuse quarterback Donald McPherson, a Heisman runner-up in 1987 when the Orange went 11-0-1, approved of the school's push for membership in the ACC.

"I like the move," said McPherson, elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. "The landscape of college sports is rapidly changing and frankly, the Big East is not strong enough to survive its current course.

"It's only asset the Big East has is the TV market, which may house the birthplace but has never been the soul of college football."

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, whose program is scheduled to join the Big East next season, said Saturday he was worried about what appears to be another pending conference shakeup.

"But if you are great at your craft there will always be a place for you," Del Conte said. "I feel great about how we are healthy athletically and fiscally. I feel good about the things we can control. There are so many moving parts and it's an amazing journey college athletics is on. I'm not sure who really knows when it will be over.

"It's crazy," Del Conte added. "It's nerve wracking for everyone in college athletics. There are earthquakes going on all around us. And we don't know when they'll settle."

North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said the ACC created a committee last year of athletic directors, university presidents and faculty athletic representatives to examine possible scenarios of both expansion and defections. Baddour, one of the four athletic directors on the committee, wouldn't reveal specifics of those discussions nor comment specifically on Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

"If you think about this nationally, it's obvious that the world is turning upside down and you want the ACC ... to be in a position where we are strong in all areas, that all of our sports are strong, that our television packages are strong as well," Baddour said shortly before kickoff of the Virginia-North Carolina game.

When the Big Ten was looking to expand last summer, there was plenty of speculation about Big East schools on the Big Ten's target list.

But the Big Ten added only Nebraska (from the Big 12). A few months later the Big East announced TCU from the Mountain West Conference was joining the league in 2012 as its ninth football member and 17th overall.

McPherson I like the move. The landscape of college sports is rapidly changing and frankly, the Big East is not strong enough to survive its current course.

-- Ex-Syracuse quarterback and
College Hall of Famer Donald McPherson

The Big East's situation is tricky because of seven nonfootball members -- such as Georgetown and Villanova -- that help make it one of the nation's strongest basketball conferences. The basketball schools and football schools often have different agendas. But losing Pitt and Syracuse would be a huge blow to Big East basketball as well as football.

Sources told ESPN.com's Katz that Pitt and Syracuse would consider scheduling St. John's in men's basketball to maintain a recruiting presence in New York City, an alumni stronghold for both schools.

There already has been speculation that West Virginia would be a target for the SEC to balance out that conference and grow to 14 members if and when Texas A&M finally joins.

The other football-playing members of the Big East are Rutgers, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati.

Information from ESPN.com's Heather Dinich, Andy Katz, Pat Forde, Dana O'Neil, ESPN's Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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