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Gorman: Pitt to Big Ten would be bad move

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Friday, Feb. 19, 2010

There is a fundamental flaw in the foundation of the Big East Conference, and it's not only because of the split of eight football and 16 basketball teams that has made the league a scheduling nightmare.

What has allowed the Big East to become susceptible to another membership raid by a rival BCS conference is its insistence on maintaining its original mission of being the nation's most powerful basketball league.

Moreover, the one school that probably has no business belonging to the 21st century Big East is the same place where the conference was conceived. Providence has provided a pipeline for Big East commissioners, from David Gavitt and Mike Tranghese to current czar John Marinatto.

When you couple those flaws with the Big Ten exploring expansion, Pitt finds itself in an enviable position of power. What makes Pitt an attractive candidate is that not just that it finished 15th in the final football rankings and is 19th in basketball but also its reputation as a research institution.

It's considered a no-brainer that Pitt should accept if invited to join the Big Ten because of the financial stability it could provide, but there's as much a gamble in leaving the Big East as there is in staying.

First and foremost, the Panthers run the risk of ruining what has become one of the nation's best rivalries, the Backyard Brawl. Some Pitt fans might prefer to renew the rivalry with Penn State, which would be great — just not if it comes at the expense of West Virginia. Whether in football or basketball, the intensity of the Brawl increases with every meeting and is a must-see event.

What's worse, Pitt could lose its best coach by moving to the Big Ten. Jamie Dixon made it clear in December that he wasn't in favor of leaving what he called the "best conference in college basketball history."

Added Dixon: "We don't have to change, because things are heading in the right direction. It's great talk, but who's going to improve their position from our conference?"

Football, that's who.

Or, at least, that's what the Big Ten would like you to believe. No question football drives college sports, but switching conferences won't ensure success.

While the Big Ten boasts its own television network, better bowl tie-ins and the recruiting draw of 100,000-seat stadiums, there's no guarantee that playing in the conference would be a boost for Pitt. The competition would be better and make it harder to clinch bowl berths, especially the BCS bowls, and Pitt could go from Big East frontrunner to Big Ten also-ran.

As for the promise of more sellouts at 65,050-seat Heinz Field, consider that Pitt has played host to six Big Ten programs since 1992, and they only sold out against Ohio State in 1995 and Penn State in 2000. That's right. Minnesota drew 31,129 in '92, Michigan State 47,956 in '06 and Iowa 50,321 in '08.

Indiana, Northwestern and Purdue all drew at least 10,000 fans fewer than capacity at their own stadiums this past fall, and the Hoosiers were so sorry they sold a home game to instead play Penn State at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Only Penn State, Ohio State and maybe Michigan would draw regular sellouts, and Pitt probably wouldn't play the latter two on an annual basis.

And how would the non-revenue sports programs fare• Pitt is finally building first-class facilities for its baseball, softball, soccer and track-and-field teams, but none of those programs are fully funded in terms of scholarships. They would have a long way to go to become competitive in the Big Ten.

Most importantly, Pitt would be turning its back on its Eastern roots.

The Panthers can easily replace their developing rivalry with Cincinnati in football, but who would come close to Connecticut in basketball• Would Pitt fans flock to Indianapolis for the Big Ten basketball tournament the way they do for the Big East tourney at Madison Square Garden?

Simply put, if Pitt moves to the Big Ten, it becomes Boston College — the school that left the Big East for all the wrong reasons and one the Big East should be recruiting to return, if for no other reason than to keep Pitt.

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