This week, Pittsburgh and Syrcause announced they agreed to buyouts with the Big East and will now move to the ACC a year earlier, now for the 2013-2014 academic year. In an effort to gauge the campus pulse on how these new schools will fit into the ACC, Chronicle sports editor Andrew Beaton sat down with RJ Sepich, the sports editor of The Pitt News, the daily student newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh.
The Chronicle: When the news first broke about Pitt and Syrcause coming to the ACC, what was the reaction like on campus to the news?
RJ Sepich: Honestly, it wasn’t that surprising when the announcement was made last fall that Pitt would be leaving the Big East for the ACC. As a member of the Big East since the ’80s, Pitt had been extremely loyal to the conference, but everyone knew Pitt’s administration was getting fed up with the Big East’s lack of attempts to strengthen itself in football, where the real money is made. For mainly football reasons, the feel around campus for awhile was that it was only a matter of time before Pitt left for the Big Ten, ACC or Big 12.
As Pitt fans tend to have a fanbase that worries a lot and can be pessimistic, some people had a negative reaction to the announcement, fearing that Pitt would become the next Boston College in the ACC and fade into obscurity. But overall, the sports fans around campus are excited about the challenges moving to the ACC will bring, as well as the prospect of hosting schools like Florida State and Clemson in football and Duke and North Carolina in basketball.
TC: Do you think Pitt sees itself as being legitimately able to compete at the top of the conference in both football and basketball? The Panthers have certainly had years where their football and basketball programs are as competitive as any in the country–do you think the move helps or hurts them more in either of the two major sports?
RJS: I would say there’s an optimism here that both programs can be competitive and perhaps even win an ACC title at some point. Despite last season’s struggles and excluding the numerous early tournament exits, the basketball program has been as solid as any in the country over the last decade and recruiting is only improving, while the football team produced some of the best football players in the game and consistently challenged for Big East titles. Fitzgerald, McCoy and Revis, the best receiver, running back and corner back in the NFL, respectively, all played for Pitt in the past decade.
Personally, I don’t think Pitt’s transition to the ACC will be as bad as Boston College’s and not as good as Virginia Tech’s, but somewhere in between. If Pitt can consistently perform well enough in its new conference to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament and qualify for a bowl game every year, I think a lot of people around here will be pleased and feel like the move was justified.
TC: Is there any disappointment in leaving a conference with rivalries and history though? And on the same token, are there any specific matchups that people are looking forward to on a regular basis?
RJS: I think the level of disappointment varies from person to person. The only real rivalry we are losing is the West Virginia Backyard Brawl game, and many Pitt fans might be secretly glad the Panthers won’t play WVU anymore because it frankly can be a scary experience for Pitt fans travelling to Morgantown. Down the road, Pitt will likely still play either Notre Dame or Penn State in football every year, and rivalries in basketball like Duquesne and Robert Morris will surely continue.
As for the new matchups, it’ll be interesting to see if we develop a rivalry with Maryland at all. And like I mentioned earlier, in football a lot of people are excited for home games against Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech. In basketball, obviously North Carolina and Duke will be the marquee games because they are the faces of ACC baskeball, and a lot of Pitt fans still talk fondly about the victory over Duke at MSG a few years ago when Levance Fields hit the 3-pointer in overtime to win it.
TC: Definitely. And the coverage with these conference changes always focuses on men’s basketball and football, but do you see it making a significant impact on Pitt in any of the non-revenue sports? For ACC fans who may not know, which of the Olympic sports does Pitt regularly do best in?
RJS: I think it could be huge in the long run for the non-revenue sports, especially baseball, softball and both soccer teams because Pitt just built an awesome brand new on-campus complex for those sports, and the recruiting and level of play is already noticeably improving and will only continue to get better when the ACC move happens.
And Pitt’s best sport besides football and basketball recently has been wrestling. The team finished 15th at last year’s NCAA championships and had two wrestlers finish in the top five of their weight class, and the program is still on the rise. Most of the other sports have been middle-of-the-pack in the Big East, although baseball, softball and women’s volleyball all have good recruiting classes coming in.
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