Pitt enjoys first day in ACC
NEW YORK — The Atlantic Coast Conference is now a 15-team league, and it might just stay that way for a while.
After Commissioner John Swofford welcomed Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to the ACC at a news conference at the NASDAQ stock exchange in Manhattan, he said that further expansion isn’t on the agenda.
“It’s not a topic of conversation for us right now,” he said. “I would not anticipate it being in the future, but we’ll see. I don’t predict the future much anymore, I’ve learned better. But it’s not something that’s on the table for discussion in our league right now.”
Swofford was joined at the news conference by Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher, Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer, Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey, Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim and former Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The group then took part in a closing bell ceremony at the stock market.
The ACC does have one more lineup change scheduled for next year, when Maryland leaves for the Big Ten and Louisville joins. The Cardinals were picked to replace the Terrapins ahead of Cincinnati and Connecticut. Both of those schools lobbied the ACC to be next out of the Big East and both remain in the newly renamed American Athletic Conference.
If the ACC ever does decide to go to 17 members — 16 for football as Notre Dame will remain an independent in its flagship sport — Cincinnati and Connecticut would make geographic sense and fit in perfectly with what is shaping up to be the most formidable basketball conference in the country. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have been perennial top-20 basketball programs in recent years, and Louisville is the defending NCAA champion.
“From an athletic perspective, I think it’s more than fair to say this is the strongest collection of basketball programs that has ever been assembled in one conference,” Swofford said. “And our potential from a football standpoint is truly unlimited.”
On the football side, Louisville is coming off one of its most successful seasons, capped by a victory against Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Syracuse and Pittsburgh haven’t been made much noise nationally in football for most of the last decade, though Fisher said ACC football is better with the arrival of the Panthers and Orange this year and Cardinals next.
“You’re talking about a league that can compete for national championships,” said Fisher, whose Seminoles are the defending ACC champions and finished No. 10 in the country last season.
But while conference realignment has mostly been driven by football and the enormous amount of revenue that comes with it, the ACC has been careful to continue to cultivate the sport that it is most famous for: men’s basketball.
“Give the commissioner credit because when they went to expand this time, these were basketball decisions,” Brey said.
ACC football has been generally perceived as the weakest of the five major football conferences. The league hasn’t won a national title in football since Florida State in 1999 and its record in BCS games is 3-13.
“What we are striving to do is to be known as the strongest and best across the board,” Swofford said. “Nothing wrong with being really good in both. I don’t think the conference has to have a label per se. That usually has to do with where you’ve had the most success from a national perspective historically. Our league has had more national success historically in basketball than in football, though we’ve had our success in football as well.”
For Pittsburgh and Syracuse the process of changing conferences started, at least publicly, in 2010. The ACC invited the two of them the weekend of Sept. 17.
Still, this day was anything but anticlimactic for the Panthers and Orange.
“As much as we’ve planned and we’re excited about it, this became real for us today, and we’re making a big deal about it,” Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson said.