The Atlantic Coast Conference has extended its northern reach, adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Now the question becomes, will the league stop there _ or keep growing to 16?
The ACC announced Sunday that its council of presidents unanimously voted to accept those two schools, a move that increases its membership to 14 and sends the Big East scrambling _ again _ to replace two of its cornerstone programs.
“We are constantly evaluating the competitive landscape to ensure the conference’s viability for years to come, and this, I believe, has staying power,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said on a conference call.
“First of all, we are very comfortable with this 14,” he added. “The only thing I would add to that is that we are not philosophically opposed to 16. But for now we are very pleased with this 14. We think it is just an excellent group.”
The announcement caps a turbulent week of reshuffling for the ACC. It likely will lead to another dramatic shift in college athletics and could mark the next step toward the era of 16-team superconferences.
“I can say that in all my years of collegiate athletics administration, I’ve never seen this level of uncertainty and potential fluidity in schools and conferences,” Swofford said. “Schools, they’re looking for stability, and when that stability doesn’t exist, for whatever reason, as long as that’s going on, I think the conferences that appear to be stable moving forward are going to receive inquiries from schools that are desirous of having that kind of stability.”
Swofford said “double-digit numbers of schools” recently expressed interest in possibly joining the ACC, but declined to identify them. When asked if any other Big East members could be targets for further expansion _ published reports indicate Connecticut and Rutgers could be under consideration _ Swofford said “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to go there.”
University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said in a statement that realignment speculation “is not close to being over, so we need to have some patience.
“UConn is a proud charter member of the BIG EAST and we have taken a lead role in the league’s success over the years,” she said. “However, it is my responsibility as President that we stay in constant communication and be actively involved in discussions with our counterparts from around the country to ensure the successful long-term future of our university’s athletic program.”
Texas A&M already has announced its intention to join the Southeastern Conference, leaving the future of the Big 12 in doubt. And the board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas are meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of the universities leaving that conference.
The ACC said its invitations were issued after Pittsburgh and Syracuse submitted letters of application to join the league. It is unclear when the schools will begin competing in the league, with Swofford saying “we will fully respect the bylaws of the Big East Conference” and that “whatever fits within those bylaws is when we would expect them to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.”
The Big East’s exit fee is $5 million, and schools wanting to leave must provide 27 months’ notice.
“The Big East has been Pitt’s conference home for nearly 30 years. It has been a good home that we will leave with many fond memories and many strong friendships,” Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg said on the call. “All of us are committed to working with (Big East commissioner John Marinatto) to make this a smooth transition.”
Swofford said adding two schools allows the league to renegotiate its 12-year, $1.86 billion television contract that began this season, “and we’re confident that will have a positive impact.”
The moves also raise the possibility that the ACC basketball tournament could add to its rotation Madison Square Garden, the longtime site of the Big East’s tournament. Atlanta is hosting the tournament this season before it is scheduled to return to Greensboro, N.C., from 2013-15.