The Atlantic Coast Conference has received application letters from Pittsburgh and Syracuse to join the league, a move that would leave the Big East scrambling to replace two of its longest tenured members.
Florida State President Eric Barron told The Associated Press on Saturday before the Seminoles played No. 1 Oklahoma that the ACC was excited about adding to its "northern tier."
"Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who have applied, these are solid academic schools, and the ACC is a truly academic conference," Barron said. "Certainly great basketball teams, a good history of football.
"I’m sure consideration will be very fast. I’ll be surprised if it’s not tomorrow (Sunday)."
But USA Today reported early Sunday that the ACC presidents had already voted on Saturday morning to accept Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the league. Citing an anonymous source, the newspaper said the ACC was still considering adding two other East Coast teams and that Connecticut and Rutgers would be the candidates.
ACC officials have scheduled a 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday teleconference but did not disclose the subject of the call.
Barron confirmed that 11 of 12 ACC presidents attended a meeting in Greensboro, N.C., on Tuesday — the other participated by phone — and unanimously approved raising the exit fee to $20 million — up from $12 million to $14 million — for any member leaving the conference.
"The great thing is that the conference is strong and committed to a unanimous commitment to staying together," North Carolina State Chancellor Randy Woodson said. "And to the extent that this is kind of a dramatic shift in conferences, we’re trying to be proactive and stay strong."
The Big East’s exit fee is $5 million, though schools wanting to leave must provide 27 months’ notice.
A jump by Pittsburgh and Syracuse could lead to another dramatic shuffle in college athletics. Texas A&M already has announced its intention to join the Southeastern Conference, leaving the future of the Big 12 in doubt. The board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas are meeting Monday to discuss the possibility of the universities leaving that conference.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement that he was very disappointed to learn that Pittsburgh and Syracuse were in discussions with the ACC.
"I continue to believe the BIG EAST Conference is well positioned for the future and that the events of the past 24 hours will unify our membership," he said. "We have been working steadily to solidify and strengthen the BIG EAST Conference and position us for our upcoming TV negotiations, and I am confident that we will again emerge from this situation and remain strong."
Pittsburgh spokesman E.J. Borghetti said athletic director Steve Pederson wouldn’t comment. Syracuse AD Daryl Gross also declined comment.
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said he believed the departures were a done deal.
"I think it was kind of a shock to everybody," he said. "We’ll have to work around it. … There was a lot of tradition in both programs. They brought a lot to the Big East. We’ll pick up the pieces and surround ourselves with other teams that are out there. We all have to follow the landscape."
If the move goes forward, Pittsburgh and Syracuse would become the fourth and fifth schools to leave the Big East for the ACC in the past decade. Virginia Tech and Miami joined in 2004, and Boston College followed a year later as the ACC’s 12th member.
Syracuse is a founding member of the Big East, and Pittsburgh joined the league in 1982.
News of a possible Big East upheaval came on the heels of the death of its founder, Dave Gavitt, who died Friday night after a long illness.
North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said the ACC created a committee last year of athletic directors, university presidents and faculty athletic representatives to examine possible scenarios of both expansion and defections. Baddour, one of the four athletic directors on the committee, wouldn’t reveal specifics of those discussions nor comment specifically on Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
"If you think about this nationally, it’s obvious that the world is turning upside down and you want the ACC . . . to be in a position where we are strong in all areas, that all of our sports are strong, that our television packages are strong as well," Baddour said shortly before kickoff of the Virginia-North Carolina game.
The New York Times first reported news of the talks involving the ACC on Friday, and CBSSports.com first reported Saturday the schools had filed applications with the ACC.
Until now, the focus of this most recent round of conference realignment had been on the Big 12, with the board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas meeting Monday to discuss their conference futures. Oklahoma could be heading to the Pac-12 and taking Oklahoma State with it. Texas has stated its desire to keep the Big 12 together, but the Pac-12 could be an option as well as football independence, a la Notre Dame, which competes in the Big East in all other sports.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott attended 23rd-ranked Texas’ meeting with UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, but said he had no plans to meet with Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds or President Bill Powers.
Scott talked with Texas, Oklahoma and several other Big 12 teams last year while his conference added Utah and Colorado, signing a massive television contract along the way.
Scott reiterated the Pac-12’s stance on expansion: The conference is "not being proactive," but has been approached by universities and is willing to consider growing again. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been linked with a Pac-12 move for several weeks, and Scott has confirmed several unidentified schools recently approached him for preliminary discussions.
"I’m surprised there’s been so much activity so quickly," Scott said, alluding to the upheaval in conference alignment talks the past few weeks. "There’s been a lot of transition in a short time."
Scott said no school has applied for admission to the Pac-12, but also said the conference has no formal application policy.
There also have been reports linking Texas to the ACC, a move that likely would include Texas Tech.
The Big East was close to signing a contract extension for its television rights with ESPN this year, walking away from a nine-year deal that reportedly was worth about $1 billion.
Marinatto said in August that the Big East felt it was in a position of strength as the last major football conference to negotiate a deal because there would be more bidders on the market with NBC expanding its cable presence and Fox becoming more involved in college football.
The Big East’s situation is tricky because of seven nonfootball members — such as Georgetown and Villanova — that help make it one of the nation’s strongest basketball conferences. The basketball schools and football schools often have different agendas. But losing Pitt and Syracuse would be a huge blow to Big East basketball as well as football.
The other football-playing members of the Big East are Rutgers, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati.