Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson has felt confident about his partners in the Atlantic Coast Conference since agreeing to join the league in September 2011. But talk is cheap, and in the current world of college athletics, words of commitment don't count for much.
So on Monday the ACC and its 15 member institutions announced that they had signed a "grant of media rights" in a move that should effectively keep the conference together as it stands for the foreseeable future.
"I think this is a very public statement that we're all committed to this and not only committed, but bound to this," Pederson said Monday. "I think that's tremendous for our future and for the landscape of the Atlantic Coast Conference."
The grant of rights is a binding agreement that states any school that leaves the ACC forfeits future media rights for the length of the agreement (through 2026-27). In effect, it makes a move to a new conference worthless, since the ACC would control the media rights even once a school is in a new conference.
In a college sports landscape where money - specifically television money - is the ultimate motivation, signing a grant of rights agreement is the literal equivalent of putting the money where the mouth is. And the ACC schools have put their money in the ACC. That's particularly relevant, not to mention necessary, since the last three years have seen considerable conference realignment, despite repeated statements of commitment from universities across the country.
"What's happened in so many cases is that people have said one thing and done another; this not only legally binds everybody to it, but it also puts some teeth into what we've been saying, that everybody believes, which is that that we're together and we're going to move forward together," Pederson said.
"It's hard to do that if people are still somewhat questioning if that's real or not real. I understand why people would be skeptical about that. And I think that was why, ultimately, we said, 'The speculation is not going to end until we do something significant to put an end to it.' And certainly there's nothing more significant than this."
For Pitt, the grant of rights means a guarantee of the one thing Pederson and the administration have been looking for: stability. Pitt accepted an invitation to join the ACC in September 2011, a move that led the school out of the sinking ship that was the Big East. But before the formal move to the new conference could be made (that will come in July), rumors emerged that some schools in the ACC - particularly Florida State, Clemson, and North Carolina, among others - could be moving to new homes in the Big Ten or Big 12.
Pederson and his colleagues at the ACC schools expect Monday's development to end that speculation. Much of that speculation has centered around Florida State, since that was one of the two schools that voted against raising the ACC's exit fee to $50 million in December (the other was Maryland, which has since agreed to join the Big Ten). But the decision to sign the grant of rights required a unanimous vote; the vote passed, meaning every school - Florida State included - agreed to solidarity with the conference.
"What you're really seeing is that we aren't going anywhere," Pederson said. "We're all going to stay together, we're going to be successful together; we're going to put an end to the discussion and get moving with building our future together."
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