The Atlantic Coast Conference has received application letters from Pittsburgh and Syracuse to join the league, according to a high-ranking ACC official.
At least 10 schools have reached out to the ACC during the recent period of uncertainty about conference realignment, the official told The Associated Press on Saturday. The official declined to identify those schools.
The official said presidents of the league’s 12 schools recently unanimously approved raising the exit fee to $20 million — up from $12 million to $14 million — for any member leaving the conference. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the league has not announced any of the moves.
North Carolina State Chancellor Randy Woodson said he expects the league to make an announcement Sunday or Monday, but would not confirm the letters of application from Pitt and Syracuse.
“The great thing is that the conference is strong and committed to a unanimous commitment to staying together,” Woodson said. “And to the extent that this is kind of a dramatic shift in conferences, we’re trying to be proactive and stay strong.”
The Big East’s exit fee is $5 million, though schools wanting to leave must provide 27 months’ notice.
A jump by Pittsburgh and Syracuse could lead to another dramatic shuffle in college athletics. Texas A&M already has announced its intention to join the Southeastern Conference, leaving the future of the Big 12 in doubt. The board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas are meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of the universities leaving that conference.
Big East spokesman John Paquette declined to comment on the possible defections. Pittsburgh spokesman E.J. Borghetti said athletic director Steve Pederson also wouldn’t comment. Syracuse AD Daryl Gross also declined comment.
If the move goes forward, Pittsburgh and Syracuse would become the fourth and fifth schools to leave the Big East for the ACC in the past decade. Virginia Tech and Miami joined in 2004, and Boston College followed a year later as the ACC’s 12th member.
Syracuse is a founding member of the Big East, and Pittsburgh joined the league in 1982. The ACC official said their letters of application were for full membership.
North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said the ACC created a committee last year of athletic directors, university presidents and faculty athletic representatives to examine possible scenarios of both expansion and defections. Baddour, one of the four athletic directors on the committee, wouldn’t reveal specifics of those discussions nor comment specifically on Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
“If you think about this nationally, it’s obvious that the world is turning upside down and you want the ACC … to be in a position where we are strong in all areas, that all of our sports are strong, that our television packages are strong as well,” Baddour said shortly before kickoff of the Virginia-North Carolina game.
Speaking on a pregame radio show, Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said: “We want to move forward and be the best we can be, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The New York Times first reported news of the talks involving the ACC on Friday, and CBSSports.com first reported Saturday the schools had filed applications with the ACC.
Until now, the focus of this most recent round of conference realignment had been on the Big 12, with the board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas meeting Monday to discuss their conference futures. Oklahoma could be heading to the Pac-12 and taking Oklahoma State with it. Texas has stated its desire to keep the Big 12 together, but the Pac-12 could be an option as well as football independence, a la Notre Dame, which competes in the Big East in all other sports.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott attended 23rd-ranked Texas’ meeting with UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, but said he had no plans to meet with Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds or President Bill Powers.
Scott talked with Texas, Oklahoma and several other Big 12 teams last year while his conference added Utah and Colorado, signing a massive television contract along the way.
Scott reiterated the Pac-12’s stance on expansion: The conference is “not being proactive,” but has been approached by universities and is willing to consider growing again. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been linked with a Pac-12 move for several weeks, and Scott has confirmed several unidentified schools recently approached him for preliminary discussions.
“I’m surprised there’s been so much activity so quickly,” Scott said, alluding to the upheaval in conference alignment talks the past few weeks. “There’s been a lot of transition in a short time.”
Scott said no school has applied for admission to the Pac-12, but also said the conference has no formal application policy.
There also have been reports linking Texas to the ACC, a move that likely would include Texas Tech.
When the Big Ten was looking to expand last summer, there was plenty of speculation about Big East schools on the Big Ten’s target list.
But the Big Ten added only Nebraska (from the Big 12). A few months later the Big East announced TCU from the Mountain West Conference was joining the league in 2012 as its ninth football member and 17th overall.
“Nothing … surprises me because it’s been happening, the rumors have been going on for weeks now of who’s going to where,” TCU AD Chris Del Conte said.
The Big East was close to signing a contract extension for its television rights with ESPN this year, walking away from a nine-year deal that reportedly was worth about $1 billion.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said in August that the Big East felt it was in a position of strength as the last major football conference to negotiate a deal because there would be more bidders on the market with NBC expanding its cable presence and Fox becoming more involved in college football.
The Big East’s situation is tricky because of seven nonfootball members — such as Georgetown and Villanova — that help make it one of the nation’s strongest basketball conferences. The basketball schools and football schools often have different agendas. But losing Pitt and Syracuse would be a huge blow to Big East basketball as well as football.
The other football-playing members of the Big East are Rutgers, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati.
There already has been speculation that West Virginia would be a target for the SEC to balance out that conference and grow to 14 members if and when Texas A&M finally joins.
The ACC would end up with 14 members if it adds Syracuse and Pitt, but 16 might make more sense. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has said his league is set with 12, but could reconsider if other conferences make additions.
It seems likely that the latest news about conference realignment won’t be the last.
“I think some things will take shape in the near future,” Weaver said.