PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh’s bitter breakup with the Big East finally has an official separation date.
Pitt and the conference announced Wednesday that the school will pay $7.5 million to join Syracuse in leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, 2013. The Big East reached a similar deal with Syracuse earlier this week.
The agreement with Pitt includes the $5 million the school already paid after it announced it was switching leagues last September. It also puts an end to an acrimonious split between Big East and one of its longest standing members.
“We are anxious to compete in our final season in the Big East and look forward to an exciting future in the Atlantic Coast Conference,” Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said in a statement.
Pitt initially agreed to abide by the 27-month waiting period required by Big East bylaws for a team exiting the conference, which would have kept the Panthers in the league until July 1, 2014. Things got ugly in May when the school filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania claiming the Big East waived its right to enforce a withdrawal notice after letting West Virginia leave for the Big 12 early.
The Panthers argued because the Big East allowed West Virginia to depart immediately — after paying a hefty $20 million exit fee — the conference could no longer hold Pitt to the 27-month withdrawal notice. The goal wasn’t to go to court but to force the Big East to get serious about settling.
After a dramatic year in which the beleaguered conference lost three key members before reconstituting itself by extending invitations to a number of schools — including Central Florida, Memphis and Temple — the Big East is ready to move on.
“This is another step for the Big East to take toward a very exciting future,” interim Big East commissioner Joe Bailey said in a statement. “With the addition of our eight new members, the Big East will be incredibly strong and vibrant.”
It also clears up what has been a murky immediate future for the Panthers. First-year football coach Paul Chryst insisted the conference talk was never a distraction and says the goal is to win no matter which league the Panthers play in.
Besides, after a tumultuous 18 months that’s seen Pitt go through four head coaches, Chryst knows the conference issue is the least of Pitt’s problems.
“We’ve got a lot to just focus with just ourselves,” Chryst said. “We’ve got a really good group of seniors. This is their last year and anything but focusing on this year … would be cheating everyone.”
ACC commissioner Jim Swofford said the conference has been “preparing to welcome both teams” for the past year. He’ll only have to wait 11 more months to unveil an expanded 14-team league that will include five former Big East members. Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East after the 2003-04 academic year and Boston College followed a year later.
The ACC will go to a nine-game conference schedule in football when Pitt and Syracuse join and every school will play in both the men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments.
Pitt joined the Big East in 1982, three years after it was founded, and was one of the charter members when the league expanded to football in 1991.
The Panthers have struggled to stay become nationally relevant in football, never winning an outright conference title. They were awarded the Big East’s Bowl Championship Series bid in 2004 after finishing in a four-way tie for the league crown before getting blown out by Utah in the Fiesta Bowl.
Pitt’s most notable conference win came in 2007 when the Panthers upset rival West Virginia in the regular season finale to deny the Mountaineers a spot in the BCS title game.
The rivalry is on hold indefinitely, however, thanks to a series of moves that have shook up the college landscape.