27 August 2011
According to Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com, the Big 12 might consider approaching Pitt about conference membership:
Notre Dame would top the Big 12 wish list, according to sources. BYU is also a strong candidate, sources say. But don't be surprised to hear Pittsburgh start to surface as a potential candidate for the Big 12.
Pitt is in the Big East, which has a television contract renegotiation coming up next year. The appeal to adding the Panthers to the Big 12 would be bringing some substantial notheastern television markets to the league.
This is a bit, uh, unexpected. I love Pitt athletics more than most, but "substantial northeastern television markets" seems to be a bit of a stretch. Pitt is what it is: a medium-sized BCS program that draws when it wins and doesn't when it loses. And in case the head-honchos in the Lone Star State haven't been paying attention, the past 25 years or so haven't been all that spectacular for the Panthers. How do you think Pitt would draw for that big match-up with Texas Tech? Or how about Pitt-Baylor at the end of every season? They could have a ridiculous trophy and everything!
I also doubt that Pitt would reciprocate the interest. The Big 12 is essentially offering the Panthers a chance to be the Boston College of their conference. Pitt would be a non-traditional conference member that is geographically isolated with no natural rivals. All for what? One or two million dollars a year extra to get streamrolled by Texas and Oklahoma most years? Pitt reportedly helped lead the charge to turn down the initial TV offering from ESPN in favor of placing the Big East media rights on the open market. I think it's a fair assumption that Pitt believes that the conference can score a fairly large payday on the open market next summer that would make any increase from switching conferences negligible.
Not to mention the whole "Texas gets to have its own network and not share any of the revenue" -thing that started this brouhaha in the first place. Pitt would go from a conference where they're more or less even with their peers in revenue to one where the top team makes 13 times more per year (and that's pre-LhN).
At the end of the day, what I take from the report is that the Big 12 is desperately searching for warm BCS bodies. The problem for the conference is that it's fallen into such a death spiral that staying in the much-bemoaned Big East is a substantially better option for Pitt than joining the once prestigious Big 12. Can the Big 12 survive? Maybe. But right now, the Big East is (somehow) the more stable choice. I think it's safe to trust that Chancellor Nordenberg and Steve Pederson would politely decline any feelers the Big 12 may put out.
UPDATE: The New York Times' Pete Thamel confirms that Pitt has been discussed:
The Big 12’s expansion committee has already spoken by telephone multiple times and has a wish list of Notre Dame, Arkansas and Brigham Young to replace Texas A&M as its 10th member. Notre Dame and Arkansas are considered long shots. Another name mentioned for the first time on the call was Pittsburgh, which is about 700 miles and 3 states removed from the nearest Big 12 school.
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