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When the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that Pittsburgh and Syracuse would be leaving the Big East and joining the ACC, it was seen as a logical move to expand the league’s footprint in the Northeast.But as details on the backroom negotiations emerge, it is clear that the “worldwide leader” was a behind-the-scenes worldwide schemer, exerting its influence and driving the ACC toward the programs it wanted to have in the league.
The Boston Globe’s Mark Blaudschun has a story in today’s print and online editions outlining the process by which the decision was made to include Pitt and Syracuse and exclude UConn, despite the Huskies’ recent success in both football and basketball.
The money quotes:
BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who was part of the 12-member ACC expansion committee, adamantly denied that the move was dictated by basketball interests, but he did concede that the effects of it may boost that sport more than football.
“It had nothing to do with basketball,” said DeFilippo. “It was football money which drove expansion. It was football money and securing our future.”
DeFilippo said the move was dictated in part by the expansion of the Southeastern Conference to include Texas A&M, which prompted the Big 12 to inquire about Pittsburgh, which is in the Northeast, an area in which the ACC felt it necessary to expand.
The ACC just signed a new deal with ESPN that will increase the revenue for each school to approximately $13 million. With the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, said DeFilippo, another significant increase will come.
“We always keep our television partners close to us,” he said. “You don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 per cent football money. TV – ESPN – is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball.”
Why is Disney – via ABC and ESPN – instructing a conference expansion committee on which teams to include and which to leave out? The Big East has been the victim of ACC poaching in the past. Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech all defected amid very bad blood and rather ugly legal disputes. The current round of hunting on posted land lands a historically powerful but recently weak Pitt football program and a Syracuse program that’s had only flashes of success. Left behind was UConn.
UConn has won a few titles in men’s and women’s basketball and while they lost millions on the trip, the football team earned a BCS bid after the 2010 season. With the Big 12, the Big 10 and even the SEC said to be interested in Big East schools, the conference is on the verge of implosion.
Basketball drives the Big East. Football is important, but there are seven members of the league that don’t play FBS football. Blaudschun suggests that those schools may break off and form a basketball only conference with Notre Dame.
What happens to UConn then?
Automatic BCS qualifying conferences poaching members from one another is a zero sum game. Someone has to lose for someone else to win. For the Big East to survive, it would have to either draw programs playing FBS football in another automatic qualifying conference, or offer someone in a non-automatic qualifying conference an upgrade. That opens up the possibilities for Conference USA, the Sun Belt, the MAC and other mid-major type conference schools to move up into a league with an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. But such a move would also hurt the image of a league already seen by fans as the least powerful of the BCS conferences.
Could the ESPN meddling have been a retaliatory move? Remember, the Big East turned down a $1.9 billion offer from the worldwide schemer and is said to be entertaining offers from NBC, CBS and FOX for its next media contract. ESPN is currently the first tier media partner for the league, but after helping the ACC decide which teams to kidnap from the Big East, an over-the-air network getting the deal of a lifetime is a fair bet.
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