SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Two days after his Orange played one of the more storied football programs in the country, Syracuse’s Doug Marrone wasn’t surprised that the first question he fielded on Monday wasn’t about the loss at Southern California.
After all, he was even pestered by a reporter during Saturday night’s game against the Trojans, once the news broke. By Sunday, it was official: long-time Big East members Syracuse and Pittsburgh were leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Marrone said he didn’t want anyone to say he was not commenting, but he doesn’t want his players distracted and has instructed everyone in the program to defer if asked about the conference switch.
“We’re excited about the future,” Marrone said. “We’re excited about the stability that brings to our university. We’re excited to be within a conference that academically, athletically, competes to be the best. That’s it.
“But right now, it’s a darn battle for us week to week, and our focus has to be on our next opponent.”
Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said Monday that the university began looking at other options after the Big Ten announced it was going to re-evaluate its conference alignment and maybe look to expand.
“At that point, we really got into a great self-look process to look where we were and how we were branding,” Gross said by phone from California, where he was involved in several fundraisers. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of growing the athletic department. We made ourselves attractive, and we’re attractive to either enhance our own conference, or if the landscape changed, we’re attractive in regards to other conferences that may present us with an opportunity to reach our goals.
“People think that we just left some people high and dry, and that’s not the deal at all. We just happened to be lucky enough, or fortunate enough, to get a seat at the table. If Pitt and UConn had gone to the ACC and we’re still sitting there, everyone would be saying how Syracuse once again didn’t move when they had an opportunity.”
Gross said the Big East’s delay in negotiating a new television deal was a factor.
“If we had agreed to a TV contract, it would be interesting,” he said. “If you have a pretty good deal, then you’re kind of solidifying yourself. OK, now we can move forward. We’re operating with more dollars. There’s a chance that these conversations don’t even come up. That’s a hard one to answer.
“At one point, we were working very hard to get a deal moving. Eventually, there were those that wanted to wait, there were those that wanted to enact a deal right away. It just hadn’t happened.”
The Big East has separate TV deals for football and basketball with ESPN. Each expires in 2013. The other conferences have been scoring staggering deals over the last year. In July, the Pac-12 signed a 12-year, $3 billion deal with Fox and ESPN.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto said in August the conference had been close to signing an extension with ESPN, but decided to test the market instead. Marinatto called the new contract the most important in the conference’s history, and he was right.
“I think a strong deal would have changed the dynamics of moving forward _ how everything looked, how the landscape looked,” Gross said. “I was one to believe that we needed to get the deal done. I thought it made us competitive, I thought it recognized the fact that Big East football schools were overperforming, but there were those that thought there’d be bigger days coming. It wasn’t a matter of frustration. It was just a matter of what your philosophy was.”
Gross said there was no timetable to make the switch. The Big East’s exit fee is $5 million, and schools wanting to leave are supposed to provide 27 months’ notice.
“We’ll do what needs to be done,” Gross said. “We’re going to do whatever they need. If that means that they need us out of way, we understand that.”
Gross said Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim, the all-time winningest coach in Big East history with 338 wins, was on board with the switch. Boeheim is a fixture at home football games in the Carrier Dome and sits in Gross’s private box.
“He understands it. He was supportive,” Gross said. “He understands all the reasons why. He knows it’s for the university and the athletic department, so he’s behind it. Obviously, I would want Jim’s blessing, and he gave it, as did Doug Marrone and (lacrosse coach) John Desko.”
Gross said going forward he would strive to continue the Orange’s intense basketball rivalries with Georgetown, Connecticut and Villanova.
“We talked about when the dust settles how we’re going to continue to set this (Georgetown) series up and make sure it lasts,” Gross said. “I hope we’ll have the same types of relationships with everyone else, and I imagine we will. We’re going to try to keep all the rivalries intact and keep it fun for everyone.”