ACC: Pederson says Pitt will leave on good terms

By Lauren Kirschman

West Virginia University has charged forward with its plans to leave the Big East next year, but… West Virginia University has charged forward with its plans to leave the Big East next year, but Pitt wants to depart the conference on good terms.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said Wednesday that the University wouldn’t pay more than the required $5 million buyout to leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Later in the day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that West Virginia is close to settling its lawsuit with the Big East by agreeing to pay the conference $11 million to join the Big 12 next season.

Pederson added that while he assumes Pitt would enter a court battle similar to West Virginia’s if it took the Mountaineers’ approach to leaving the Big East, he said Pitt has no plans to take that route.

In its lawsuit, West Virginia asserts that it should be released from the Big East’s 27-month waiting period for leaving the conference because the Big East “failed to fulfill its fiduciary obligations” toward the university.

The Big East responded to the litigation by filing a breach of contract lawsuit against West Virginia. Pederson said he hopes Pitt’s situation “can be resolved in a manner where everyone shakes hands and feels good about it.”

“I think, particularly given the fact that [the Big East] has been able to reconfigure … and have a good plan going forward, that this would probably be a good time for everyone to start solving the problems and making everything work for everybody,” he said.

Still, Pederson said that even in September, when Pitt and Syracuse announced that they would join the ACC, he had hoped that the schools would be able to leave prior to the 27-month waiting period.

West Virginia hasn’t shied away from asserting that it will play in the Big 12 next season. Pederson said Pitt hasn’t considered a similar stance.

“We haven’t had that kind of discussion about just leaving regardless,” Pederson said. “We are going to see what happens here.”

If West Virginia settles with the Big East and leaves early for the Big 12 Conference, its absence could open another hole in Pitt’s football schedule. Pitt already has an opening in its schedule because Texas Christian University — which was supposed to join the Big East next year — made the decision to leave for the Big 12 and will face no waiting period.

Pederson said Pitt is close to filling that opening.

“We are working diligently to try to fix that hole in the schedule, and I hope we’ll be able to do that shortly,” he said. “If another hole is created, it really creates a lot of issues. We have to keep our eyes open and keep monitoring this.”

If West Virginia leaves for the Big 12, Pitt would be looking to add a home game to its schedule, which would make finding a replacement more difficult.

If Pitt fills the hole in its schedule left by TCU and then is able to join the ACC next season, Pederson said the Panthers new conference will be prepared to accommodate the schedule ramifications.

On Wednesday, the Big East announced that the University of Memphis would join the conference for all sports in 2013.

Southern Methodist University, the University of Central Florida and Houston will also join the Big East for all sports in 2013. Boise State and San Diego State will join the Big East for football only in 2013, while Navy will join for football only in 2015.

Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has said that he intends to hold Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia to their contracts with the conference until the summer of 2014, although that situation could change as soon as tomorrow for West Virginia, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The decision on WVU could have ramifications for Pitt, and Pederson said the University is monitoring West Virginia’s situation.

Pederson said that the Big East hasn’t provided a reason why the schools can’t leave, even though the conference itself has plans to realign in 2013. He said Pitt hasn’t had conversations with the Big East about the University possibly leaving the conference sooner than the waiting period dictates.

“Not at this point,” Pederson said. “I’m hoping we can get discussions going about how we move forward. The sooner everyone can get moving on to their next thing, the better it is for everybody.”

He added that he doesn’t know if it’s likely that Pitt will be allowed to join the ACC before the end of the waiting period.

“We’re not going to close any doors yet because we just don’t know what the future holds,” Pederson said.

However, he said the ACC would be ready to accommodate Pitt and Syracuse whenever the two schools can join.

“They will take us whenever they can get us and would be ready for us,” he said. “They haven’t made any final decisions until they know exactly what all is happening starting with this season.”

Recently, ACC officials announced that Pitt would join the conference’s Coastal Division. Although the ACC plans to move to a nine-game football conference schedule once Pitt and Syracuse join, Pederson said that if the two schools can move next season, they will likely play eight games.

As far as future football scheduling, Pederson emphasized the creation of a series with Penn State — the two schools are set to play in 2016 and 2017 — and plans to maintain the ongoing series with Notre Dame. He placed no such emphasis on the rivalry with West Virginia.

He said that decision “wasn’t a reflection” on West Virginia, but rather recognition of the tradition and history in the Penn State and Notre Dame rivalries as well as the commonalties between the institutions.

Pederson — who met with ACC officials last week to decide scheduling — said that all the teams in the conference “are really on the same page.” He described the ACC as the perfect fit for Pitt.

“Everybody is kind of working toward the same thing,” he said. “One thing I really liked … is everybody makes decisions on what’s best for the ACC. That’s really how a conference functions the best.”