The University of Pittsburgh can benefit from the move from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The university will receive economic benefits in the form of television contracts for athletics, and an opportunity for a greater number of traditionally non-revenue sports to succeed. Joining the ACC will also provide greater academic benefits; the ACC has a higher graduation rate among student-athletes than the Big East.
The conclusion that the University of Pittsburgh will benefit from the move to the ACC is based on current bountiful television contracts between ESPN and the ACC, examples of former Big East schools succeeding in the ACC, and NCAA statistics on graduation rates and academic performance.
Analysis of the data revealed benefits in these three areas:
Athletic benefits. The ACC is in the process of renegotiating a lucrative television contract with ESPN. The current deal is worth $1.86 billion over 12 years. Meanwhile, the Big East Conference’s current contract with ESPN is worth $200 million over 6 years.
Success of non-revenue sports. In 2004, Boston College left the Big East to join the ACC. Since the move, the women’s soccer team has amassed success that would not have been possible in the Big East. They won the highly competitive ACC title, and were one of the top four teams in the national championship tournament. It is possible for Pitt women’s soccer, as well as other non-revenue sports, to emulate this success.
Academic benefits. The ACC boasts higher graduation rates among student athletes than the Big East Conference. The ACC also has a higher Academic Progress Rate (APR), a tool used by the NCAA to indicate the success of collegiate athletic teams in graduating student-athletes. A perfect score is 1,000. The ACC has an APR rating of 961.7; the Big East Conference has a 942.9 rating.
Due to these brief facts, it is recommended that the University of Pittsburgh leave the Big East Conference in favor of joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. The university would receive economic and recruiting benefits athletically, see traditionally non-revenue sports improve, and join a conference with an Ivy League-like academic ideal.
This study was designed to analyze the numerous academic and athletic benefits that the University of Pittsburgh would receive if it were to join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). This study seeks to answer these questions:
What type of economic impact will the move to the ACC have on athletics, and the university at a whole?
Will secondary sports (i.e. sports besides football and men’s basketball) succeed?
How will changing conferences help the university academically?
BACKGROUND: CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT IN COLLEGE ATHLETICS
In 2009 the Big 10 Conference, home to schools such as Ohio State University, Penn State University, and the University of Michigan, announced that it was seeking to expand. From that point on Division I schools across the country were looking to change conferences. The University of Nebraska vacated the Big 12 Conference in favor of the opening in the Big 10 Conference. The Big 12 is now very unstable and is offering schools such as Texas Christian University and West Virginia University conference membership. West Virginia was a member of the Big East, and TCU was invited to join the Big East for the 2012-13 academic year.
Besides losing WVU and TCU, Syracuse University also received an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. This leaves the Big East in a vulnerable position. The conference currently has 12 members; six of those schools are non-football members. Additionally, five of those schools are rumored to have received invitations from other conferences.
As Figure 1 shows, “super conferences” forming in the near future is a strong possibility. A super conference is defined as a conference with 14 to 16 member schools; the minimum number of members for a conference to be in existence is six schools; the norm is eight to 12 (Masteralexis, Barr & Hums, 2011.) The best approach for Pittsburgh is to be proactive.
Possible Formation of Super Conferences
Because conference realignment is causing chaos in college athletics, it is the recommendation of this study to Athletic Director Pederson and Chancellor Nordenberg that the University of Pittsburgh leave the Big East Conference to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. As noted above, Syracuse University was also invited to the ACC. It is not in the scope of this study to report the possible benefits Syracuse would receive by switching from the Big East to the ACC; this focuses solely on the University of Pittsburgh.
With the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the ACC will total 14 teams. By definition, that number classifies the ACC as a “super conference.” It is in the best interest of Pittsburgh to be a member of a stable super conference, rather than an unstable conference with a limited number of full-time members.
Data for this report came from several sources within the world of sports. Several Pittsburgh-area newspapers, including the student-run Pitt News, were used. ESPN, CBSSports, U.S. News, Sports Business Journal, and the NCAA website were also sources of data.
DISCUSSION: ATHLETIC BENEFITS, SUCCESS OF NON-REVENUE SPORTS,
AND ACADEMIC BENEFITS
The results of this research indicate that the University of Pittsburgh will receive benefits with a move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. These benefits include, but are not limited to: (a) athletic benefits, monetary or otherwise, (b) growth and success of non-revenue sports, and (c) academic benefits.
The main reasons Pittsburgh should join the Atlantic Coast Conference are the economic and competitive benefits. The ACC has the third largest contract with ESPN behind the South Eastern Conference (SEC) and the Pacific 12 Conference (Pac-12). In comparison, the Big East has the sixth largest contract.
New ACC/ESPN Contract
The ACC currently has a contract with ESPN to broadcast primarily football and men’s and women’s basketball games. The contract is valued at $155 million a year. The contract contains a “composition clause”; the clause states that if conference membership increases or decreases by at least two schools, either the ACC or ESPN would be permitted to reopen the deal (Smith & Ourand, 2011). Because the ACC was proactive in adding members to its conference, it is granted leverage in the negotiating process with ESPN.
The current per-school revenue is $12.9 million a year. ACC Commissioner John Swofford anticipates that number to increase. As reported by the Sports Business Journal, Swofford said “We [the ACC] expect to do better than our schools staying even.” The new contract between the ACC and ESPN is projected to increase in value by as much as $2 million per school per year. The overall conference deal would be approximately $210 million a year.
As a member of the Big East, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Pittsburgh also benefited from a television deal with ESPN. The deal was worth $200 million over six years – less than $40 million annually. However, because of its current instability, the Big East Conference turned down an extension offer from ESPN. It is in Pittsburgh’s best economic interest to join the more stable ACC and reap the benefits of the ACC’s deal with ESPN.
ESPN Television Contracts
$200 million/6 years
2007/08 through 2012/13
$1.86 billion/12 years
2011/12 through 2022/23
Expanded Syndication Package
The ACC also has a television contract with Raycom Sports, which sublicenses the ESPN contract and distributes games outside of ACC states. Raycom Sports and the ACC have expanded the football syndication package into an additional 40 markets this season. Some of the largest markets include Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. As explained by Sports Business Journal Staff Writer Michael Smith, “Those new markets give ACC football more exposure than it’s ever enjoyed in its longtime relationship with Raycom Sports.” Raycom’s ACC broadcasts have grown in the last few seasons. In 2010 network coverage reached 46 percent of households in the U.S.
Pittsburgh represents the nation’s 23rd largest television market. Therefore, the addition of the University of Pittsburgh to the ACC would be mutually beneficial. If added, Pittsburgh would allow the ACC to own nine of the top 30 television markets nationally. Additionally, Pittsburgh’s games would be broadcast in the geographic region of the other 13 members’ locations.
ACC Television Markets
Metropolitan Market Regions/Area
Wider Recruiting Range
Due to the increase of television markets, and the ACC/Raycom syndication contract, the University of Pittsburgh will reap the benefits of more people viewing their football and basketball games. Besides being able to reach a larger number of alumni, the university can more importantly reach a larger number of potential recruits. Football coach Todd Graham explained in an interview with ESPN.com that, “the benefits [of joining the ACC] – namely increased television revenue and a greater geographic reach recruiting – far outweigh the cost [of leaving the Big East].”
University of Pittsburgh basketball coach Jamie Dixon stated in an interview with ESPN.com that he “always felt if we [Pitt] were going to move that the ACC would be the best situation.” Although the Big East provided rivalries with top teams such as Connecticut, Louisville, and Villanova, membership in the ACC will mean playing Duke, North Carolina, and Maryland. Those ACC basketball teams alone are more prominent historically than most Big East teams. In terms of competition the level of play is not necessarily better, however it provides a new challenge and a continuing chance for Pitt basketball to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Football and basketball made $5 million and $7 million respectively in the 2010-11 season (Dosh, 2011). However, they will not be the only sports teams that will benefit from the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. It has been proven, specifically by Boston College, that changing conferences can increase a non-revenue team’s success.
In 2004 Boston College left the Big East in favor of the ACC. While the women’s soccer program had a respectable record, it seemed to have plateaued. After moving to the ACC, the team won the highly competitive ACC title, and was a national championship contender as well. It is because of the increase in competition that Boston College was able to build a successful program.
The ACC currently has seven women’s soccer teams ranked in the top 25; six ranked in the top 13 nationally. In comparison, the Big East has only three teams in the top 25. As reported by The Pitt News, the ACC’s North Carolina has won five out of the last 11 national championships. Pitt women’s soccer coach Sue-Moy Chin recognizes the opportunities available, “With the ACC, right away you get national recognition. That will help us” (Fittipaldo, 2011). The ACC is a more established conference in terms of women’s soccer, and is a national draw for student-athletes.
As stated in the aforementioned section, the ACC is in the process of negotiating a new television contract with ESPN. Pittsburgh will earn a significant amount of money from that ESPN contract. Athletic director Steve Pederson stated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the athletic department could use the “increased revenue to strengthen all of its existing sports programs.” One of those existing sports programs that will benefit from switching from the Big East to the ACC is the baseball program. The Big East only had two baseball games nationally televised during the 2010-11 season; the ACC had two to three baseball games per week televised on one of ESPN’s many networks. Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano encourages the switch to the ACC. “The ACC quite arguably is the best baseball conference in the country. It really elevates our program to another level.”
The University of Pittsburgh wrestling team is not currently a member of the Big East. Pittsburgh is a member of the Eastern Wrestling League (EWL) due to the fact that the Big East Conference does not sponsor wrestling. Therefore, the wrestling program has the most to gain, competitively, from the move to the ACC. The University of Maryland has won the ACC team title three out of the last four seasons. Coach Randy Stottlemyer realizes the opportunities available in the ACC, “The teams in the ACC are like us. The EWL has been a great league with numerous national champions and All-Americans, but for us it’s a good fit to be in the ACC.” As a member of the EWL, Pittsburgh often faces Division II schools. Membership in the ACC guarantees competition against only Division I schools, leading to better competition for Pittsburgh.
Although the Big East has produced champions such as Connecticut (7 championships since 1994-95) and Notre Dame (2000-01 champion), the ACC has more equally distributed teams. At the end of the 2010/11 season the Big East had five teams ranked in the top 25; the ACC had six. While there is not a great difference in level of competition, both Coach Agnus Berenato and junior Ashlee Anderson recognize the prestige and the visibility of the ACC (Anzur, 2011).
The university’s men’s soccer team will also face a higher level of competition if Pittsburgh moves from the Big East to the ACC. An ACC team won the national championship five out of the last 11 years; Virginia won most recently in 2009. Currently, the ACC has the top-ranked team nationally in Maryland.
Moving from the Big East Conference to the ACC will boost the University of Pittsburgh’s academic appeal. As a whole, the ACC is a more prestigious academic conference. Leading the way are schools such as Duke University, Georgia Tech, and the University of North Carolina.
Every year U.S. News compiles a report of the nation’s top colleges. In the 2010-11 report, the ACC was the top BCS conference in academic rankings. Division I schools that compete in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) must have a football program that reaches a specific attendance number every year. There are currently 67 Division I schools in Bowl Championship Series. Out of those BCS schools, the ACC had seven schools ranked in the top 40. In comparison, the Big East had two schools ranked in the top 60.