Pitt’s Dixon opposes move to Big Ten

Leaving the Big East for the Big Ten would be a big mistake for

Pittsburgh, according to men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon.

Dixon calls the Big East “the best conference in college

basketball history” and said it wouldn’t benefit Pitt or any other

conference member to switch leagues.

Big Ten officials plan to spend the next year to 18 months

exploring whether to add a 12th member. Pitt has been mentioned as

a likely candidate because it offers a large TV market, excellent

academics and a prime location. The Panthers could renew their

lapsed rivalry with Penn State and form a new one with nearby Ohio

State.

Dixon needs to hear a lot more reasons than those.

“I can’t see how any team would improve where they’re at by

movement,” Dixon said Thursday. “Every situation, you have to

look at why you’re doing it to improve yourselves. And I can’t see

how moving from the best conference in college basketball history

would be a good thing for anybody.”

While Pitt football might have more to gain than the basketball

team by joining the Big Ten, Dixon doesn’t believe the move would

significantly benefit coach Dave Wannstedt’s program, either.

“We’ve got (football) bowl tie-ins greater than any other

conference, as far as percentages, so what would we have to change

for?” Dixon said. “This thing just keeps getting better.”

Dixon mentioned no schools by name. However, abandoning longtime

Big East rivalries with Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut and

replacing them with Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin –

distant schools with no ties or significant attraction to Pitt –

could erode interest in Panthers basketball.

Pitt built a new, on-campus basketball arena seven years ago

largely because of the demand for Big East tickets. About 3,000 are

on a waiting list for season tickets at the 12,508-seat Petersen

Events Center.

To Dixon, the Big East became the envy of other basketball

conferences when Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and

South Florida joined in 2005. Fifteen of the Big East’s 16

basketball-playing schools have made at least one Final Four

appearance.

“We don’t have to change, because things are heading in the

right direction,” Dixon said. “Other conferences might have to

change to gain momentum, but our momentum has been consistent since

the expansion itself. So, it’s exciting to hear about it and talk

about it, but at the end of the day who’s really going to improve

their position from our conference? Nobody.”

Dixon’s comments Thursday were the first by any Pitt coach or

administrator since the Big Ten signaled its plans on Tuesday. Pitt

chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has been a strong Big East proponent,

leading the expansion drive that kept the conference together after

Boston College and Miami left for the Atlantic Coast Conference in

2005.

Notre Dame, a Big East member in most sports except football,

turned down the Big Ten in 1999.

Dixon also doesn’t believe the NCAA basketball tournament will

expand from 65 to 96 teams, a move that would create an extra

weekend of play and allow far more mid-major schools to

participate.

“I just don’t see it changing,” Dixon said. “I think it

probably needs to be changed, but I don’t think it can be.”

Pitt has played in the last eight NCAA tournaments, the longest

current streak of any Big East team.

“I think our numbers indicate how tough it is to make the NCAA

tournament when we have by far the longest streak in the best

conference in the country,” Dixon said. “It just goes to show how

tough it’s become, especially in our conference, but I just don’t

know how they’re going to change those things around.”