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July 19, 2012

Pitt gets to the exit of the Big East

The excitement around Pitt's acceptance into the ACC has been palpable since the move was announced last September. Now that the transition has an official date, the anticipation can turn to preparation.

"Everybody's been anxious to find out what the future holds, and us in particular," Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson said Thursday. "For me, it was most important that our student-athletes and our coaches know immediately what the future holds for them. That's been a concern all along: we didn't want to have this kind of limbo situation where everybody doesn't know exactly what's going to happen next. Now they've got definition."

That definition comes in the form of a date: July 1, 2013, which is the official first day of Pitt's membership in the ACC. Pitt and the ACC announced on September 26, 2011, that the university would be leaving the Big East for the ACC, and the ensuing ten months have been filled with questions of when Pitt would join its new conference and how much it would cost.

Under the existing agreement, Big East schools that leave for another conference have to wait 27 months and pay a $5 million exit fee. But Pederson made no secret of Pitt's desire to join the ACC in a shorter timeframe, since waiting 27 months would have kept Pitt in the Big East until 2014. But the Providence-based conference took a hardline position initially.

As time progressed, though, and the Big East repopulated to the point where the conference is scheduled to have a full membership in 2013, it became clear that Pitt - as well as Syracuse, which is also going to the ACC - was no longer necessary to the vitality of the conference. So negotiations on an early exit began, and by all accounts, the negotiations were going well.

Then the negotiations suddenly ceased and Big East commissioner John Marinatto resigned in early May. That turn of events prompted Pitt to file a lawsuit against the conference seeking resolution of the terms of the departure. Two-and-a-half months later, Pitt announced on Wednesday that the date of July 1, 2013 had been set.

"We've been working at this for some time and, really, I think the catalyst for this, we're reasonably certain, was the lawsuit," Pederson said. "That got everybody moving in some direction, and as it turned out, everybody ended up benefiting.

"We had to get the process moving somehow, and that had been our hope all along. Now we got everybody in the room, got this solved, and so we're glad it's completed."

As part of the settlement, Pitt will pay the Big East $7.5 million, $2.5 million of which was paid in September. Over the past six months, Pederson has been steadfast in stating that Pitt did not intend to pay more than the $5 million exit fee that was part of the agreement among Big East schools. But as time wore on and the 2013-14 school year - Pitt's target for entering the ACC - drew closer, concessions were made.

"At some point it's just appropriate to move forward," Pederson said. "Once the number became reasonable and we felt like we were close enough, then at some point it's time to just make the deal and move forward. We're glad we were able to get that done, and we do think it's reasonable and we're comfortable with the number we ended up with."

Pitt's deal with the Big East is similar to one reached by Syracuse earlier this week, although Pederson said he was not privy to the details of that agreement since Pitt and Syracuse negotiated with the Big East separately.

As a result of the settlement, Pitt has also dropped its lawsuit against the Big East, and Pederson and company are set to look forward. The plan nearly hit a snag this summer when rumors were rampant about Florida State, Clemson, and several other schools possibly leaving the ACC for the Big 12.

Pederson was asked on Thursday if he was confident that those schools are committed to the ACC.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's funny because we were in meeting rooms with these guys and talking to them on the phone, and the teams that were talked about were very committed and working hard for the ACC. I haven't seen even the slightest bit of weakness from anybody from the presidential level or the Athletic Director level at all in this conference.

"Really, when you think about it, you now have a conference that controls the eastern seaboard from Boston to Miami, you've got unbelievable television markets, you have these outstanding academic institutions. And really, the east coast is such an important part of the United States, when you really control the east coast, you have something special.

"So the ACC is a long-term player in whatever happens into the future, and I think we're sitting in probably the greatest spot I could ever imagine; we feel very fortunate to be part of this."






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