College conference realignment once again big in the news

By Joedy McCreary

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 18 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

"We will continue working to do what's best for our university and its athletic teams," West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said. "No matter how the college athletic landscape changes, there is no doubt WVU is and will remain a national player."

Missouri could wind up in the SEC or even the Big Ten, though Commissioner Jim Delany has said his league is set with 12 but could reconsider if other conferences make additions.

A number of schools — from Connecticut and Rutgers, to Texas and Texas Tech — have been linked to another possible round of ACC expansion. Swofford declined to discuss specifics about Texas except to say that "it's an outstanding institution with a tremendous athletic program."

Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said his school "would encourage a future expansion" for the ACC. Swofford said "double-digit numbers of schools" recently expressed interest in possibly joining his league but declined to identify them, and when asked if any other Big East members could be targets for further expansion, 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."

The ACC's announcement that its council of presidents unanimously voted to accept Pitt and Syracuse sends the Big East scrambling once again to replace two key programs while giving the ACC what Swofford says is "staying power."

"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 ACC said its invitations were issued after Pittsburgh and Syracuse submitted letters of application to join the league, and Swofford declined to say when they reached out to his league out of respect for their confidentiality.

It is unclear when Pitt and Syracuse will begin competing in the league, with Swofford saying "we will fully respect the bylaws of the Big East 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."

Adding multiple schools allows the ACC to renegotiate its 12-year, $1.86 billion television contract with ESPN and ABC that began this season, Swofford said.

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.

"I don't think there's any question that taking a look at New York and Madison Square Garden would be very appealing for Atlantic Coast Conference basketball fans — and even moreso now with even more teams in closer proximity," Swofford said. "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."

Around the ACC, the two new members were welcomed warmly.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski called the moves "a real coup for the ACC," and athletic director Kevin White said Pitt and Syracuse "provide the best fit — at the right time — for the ACC." Miami President Donna Shalala, a Syracuse graduate, said she was delighted to add those schools.

Swofford confirmed the ACC unanimously approved raising the exit fee to approximately $20 million — up from $12 million to $14 million — for any member leaving the conference, a maneuver seemingly designed to keep the remaining ACC schools in the fold.

"I look at that, as I think our presidents do, as actually a show of solidarity and confidence in each other," Swofford said, "but it's also set in terms of what we think, in losing a member, the various tangible and intangible costs may be."

It's sure to create even more bad blood between two conferences that became embroiled in a nasty lawsuit the last time the ACC expanded by adding schools from the Big East. A multibillion dollar settlement reached in 2005 included the scheduling of nine interconference football games.

With Pitt and Syracuse coming aboard, the number of programs making the Big East-to-ACC jump in the past decade is five.

AP College Football Writers Ralph D. Russo in Tallahassee, Fla., and Jeff Latzke in Oklahoma; AP Sports Writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas; Dave Skretta in Manhattan, Kan.; and Rick Gano in South Bend, Ind.; and Associated Press Writer Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia, Mo., contributed to this report.


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