GREENSBORO, N.C. - Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in a move that ACC commissioner John Swofford said will strengthen the conference as its membership grows to 14 schools.
Big East bylaws call for Pittsburgh and Syracuse each to pay a $5 million exit fee and wait 27 months before departing. In a teleconference Sunday morning arranged by the ACC, Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg said his university plans to comply with those bylaws but is open to an earlier, negotiated departure that wouldn't leave Pitt with an extended lame duck status in the Big East.
"I would think that in the weeks ahead, everyone will be looking at the transition period and trying to determine whether the 27-month notice period really serves everyone's best interests," Nordenberg said Sunday.
Swofford said the move bridges the ACC's geographic footprint from Maryland to Massachusetts so that the conference's reach extends the entire Eastern Seaboard, from Boston College to Miami.
Adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse also opens up new possibilities for the ACC. Expanding membership by two schools allows the ACC to reopen negotiations with current TV rights holder ESPN in a move Swofford predicted will more than pay for the additional two schools. The ACC is in the first year of a 12-year contract worth a reported $1.86 billion to the conference.
Getting two more schools in the Northeast also creates the possibility of including New York City's Madison Square Garden -- the longtime home of the Big East basketball tournament -- as part of the rotation for the ACC men's basketball tournament, Swofford said.
"I don't think there's any question that taking a look at New York and Madison Square Garden would be very appealing for ACC basketball fans," Swofford said, "and more so now with teams in closer proximity and with that being the media center of the world, so to speak. We'd probably be remiss if we didn't think of it in those terms."
The move follows the ACC's addition of Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College in 2005 to expand to 12 members. A question left unanswered is whether ACC presidents ultimately would like to have 16 members in the conference as Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC expansion have the college athletic world buzzing over the concept of "superconferences."
Swofford said the changing college athletic landscape makes it certain that stronger conferences will continue to be approached by schools hoping to join. He said the ACC has received inquiries from a double-digit number of schools aspiring to become members but declined to name the specific schools.
"We're very comfortable with this 14," he said. "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's an excellent group."
Although the Palm Beach Post reported last week that Florida State will establish a committee to assess its long-term conference options, Swofford said he believes the current membership of the ACC is unified.