While it may be hard to believe, the ACC now has the distinct honor of becoming the first 14-team BCS conference in 2013.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse both received permission from the Big East to make their move South this week, and both are slated to join the conference in July of next year.
This may seem a relatively trivial move considering the state of both schools’ football and basketball programs, but there are a few nuanced issues to consider for both Virginia Tech fans and college football fans in general.
Let’s start with the foremost subject on everyone’s minds: how this will affect the football. Unfortunately, the answer is pretty boring on this front. Syracuse is slated to join the league’s Atlantic division, while Pitt will be in the Coastal division, but both programs are mediocre at best at the moment.
It will certainly be useful for the better teams in each division to get the opportunity to beat up on the lowly newcomers, but the one point of intrigue emerges from Virginia Tech’s relationship with the Panthers.
The Hokies are slated to travel to Heinz Field to face Pitt early next season for an out-of-conference matchup, but what will this mean for a pair of teams that will be regular division opponents for the foreseeable future? Will they be forced onto the schedule two years from now, and if so, will the game be at home for the Hokies after their recent foray to face Pitt this year? Or will they wait to face the Panthers until 2014? And where will the game be then?
It’s not as if these are particularly meaningful, but of the pair of new league members, Pitt is infinitely more formidable football-wise, which does give some reason for concern.
On the basketball side, this new development is even more relevant. Although Pitt had a down year last season, and the Orange failed to live up to tournament expectations, these two teams will immediately be two of the best squads in the ACC by the time the 2013 season rolls around.
While this might not mean much for elite teams like North Carolina and Duke, it means a lot for middle of the pack teams like Virginia Tech. While the Hokies are sure to struggle in their first season under a rookie head coach, the hope was always that 2013 may be the start of their return to relevance.
Now, barring any miracles, it would seem that the best possible outcome for the team would be reaching fifth behind these two new ACC powers and the old hands on Tobacco Road.
The ACC tournament will also be that much tougher with Pitt and Syracuse added to the mix, which will surely make it much tougher for these middle-tier teams like Tech, NC State, Florida State or Miami to be competitive in the near future.
But the sudden jump of these two schools to the ACC is perhaps most relevant to the larger question of conference re-alignment in college sports. West Virginia started the ball rolling by refusing to stay in the Big East one second more than they wanted to, and this addition to the ACC is undoubtedly a continuation of this trend.
Conferences like the Big East may charge exorbitant “exit fees” to schools that want to jump ship, but Pitt and Syracuse just proved how irrelevant these obstacles really are by doling out $7.5 million apiece like it was pocket change.
They proved that if a big school is determined the change conferences, there’s little that anyone can do to stop them. Pitt was poised for a long, unproductive legal battle with the Big East, but when news of Syracuse’s defection reached them, they quickly coughed up the cash and followed suit.
This is going to prove to be particularly important in coming years as more and more schools attempt to jump to power conferences and consolidate their power.
Suffice to say that, while this story might appear trivial and inevitable to some, there’s a lot of meaning contained within it.