- Associated Press - Monday, September 19, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh football coach Todd Graham felt the Panthers were the best team in the Big East when he took over in January.

Now that the school is heading to the ACC, he still likes his chances.

“There’s not anything that doesn’t get better because of this,” Graham said Monday following a busy weekend in which program joined Syracuse in bolting the Big East for the ACC.

Sure, the road to a conference title and the automatic BCS bowl berth that comes with it will be more difficult whenever the Panthers officially move. It hardly matters to Graham, who figures the benefits _ namely increased television revenue and a greater geographic reach recruiting _ far outweigh the cost.

“Naturally the TV market, the East Coast, the recruiting base, all those things I think is something that we’re very excited about, very appreciative of this opportunity,” Graham said.

One that seemed to be borne out of necessity.

The university understood the Big East was on shaky ground and didn’t hesitate when ACC commissioner Jim Swofford reached out to Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson in the middle of last week, starting a whirlwind courtship that ended with the Panthers and the Orange _ both original members of the Big East _ joining former conference mates Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College in the new-look ACC.

Things happened so quickly, neither Graham or basketball coach Jamie Dixon had the chance to tell their players what’s going on.

Pitt wide receiver Devin Street is still waiting for Graham to break the news.

“(Coach) really didn’t tell us yet,” Street said with a laugh. “I just heard about it and it’s been publicized a lot. I’m sure he’ll tell us on Tuesday.”

By then, the now 14-team ACC could get even bigger.

Dixon left for a recruiting trip to New Zealand last week and came home to find his team, a perennial contender for the Big East title, shuffled off to a conference whose hub is Tobacco Road, not Dixon’s favored New York City.

Dixon joked he’s already petitioned Swofford to move the ACC tournament to Madison Square Garden. Unlikely, though Dixon believes the ACC will have even more Big East flavor when the shuffling finally stops.

“We’re going to have a lot of Big East schools that are going to be with us in the ACC,” he said.

When? Who knows?

Pederson said Sunday night the school will honor the Big East bylaws that require departing schools to wait 27 months before officially pulling out of the league.

“If for any reason it’s in the best interest of both parties to accelerate that, certainly we’ll have those discussions,” he said.

Both Dixon and Graham stress the “when” is immaterial at this point. They’ve kept talk with recruits about the program’s future vague at best. Besides, it doesn’t really matter. They know they’ll be on national TV. They know they’ll play top programs. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Dixon has long been a proponent of Pitt remaining in the Big East but understands there are other factors at play besides basketball. He doesn’t take the focus on football as the impetus for switching personally.

If Pitt stayed in the Big East, it meant facing UConn, Louisville and Villanova annually. In the ACC it could mean taking on Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. Seems like a fair trade. There are chances to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee everywhere the Panthers turn.

“I always felt if we were going to move that the ACC would be the best situation for us and it would be the one we would end up going to because we would end up seeking out the best situation,” Dixon said.

There’s little concern about receiving the kind of blowback Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College received when they split for the ACC nearly a decade ago.

Graham is hopeful the football team can continue the “Backyard Brawl” series with rival West Virginia, but knows it’s not a given. A traditionalist at heart, Graham is also pragmatic. Heading to the ACC was a decision out of his hands and creates a new challenge. It’s not one he signed up for, but he’s not complaining.

Pitt has a new home even if it’s unclear when they’ll get the keys.

“The perception is this is a big-time move up for us,” Graham said, “and perception is reality.”

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