Dixon on move to ACC: 'If not us ... somebody else'
Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, an outspoken opponent of leaving the Big East in recent years, said the move to the Atlantic Coast Conference had to be done.
"We realized it was time," Dixon said Monday morning. "If not us, it was going to be somebody else. I think we can all agree on that."
Speaking with reporters at the UPMC football practice facility on the South Side, Dixon said he supported the move.
"I've always felt that if we were to move conferences, that the ACC would be the conference," Dixon said. "I'd always made that clear, and Chancellor (Mark) Nordenberg reminded me of that this week when we talked."
Pitt and Syracuse accepted membership into the ACC on Sunday, expanding the league to 14 teams. Syracuse was a charter member of the Big East; Pitt joined in 1982.
Dixon opposed leaving the Big East when the rumors of a possible departure to the Big Ten were circulating, saying in December, 2009, "I can't see how moving would be a good thing for anybody."
But he said the changing landscape of collegiate athletics forced Pitt to make a pro-active move, even if it meant leaving a league that Dixon once called "the best conference in college basketball history."
"We did everything we could to make the Big East better for a number of years," he said. "But at that point the decision had to be made. We wish the Big East was going to stay together and grow and get better. But we also knew there was going to be the possibility of realignment, where we were going to be the team that moves on.
"It's a tough thing, having football schools and non-football schools," he added. "It's not conducive to building conferences. It's just hard to do. It's a huge challenge."
Dixon, who was recruiting in New Zealand over the weekend, said he will talk to his players later this afternoon. He said he called some recruits this morning to discuss the Panthers' new conference.
"I think the momentum is going to continue with our program," Dixon added. "That's upon us. We need to continue to make it better. It's not what conference we're in. It's up to us to be the best we can be."
Dixon, who lobbied to help TCU, his alma mater, join the Big East last winter, also spoke with Horned Frogs athletic director Chris Del Conte late Sunday night.
"They are in a better position now than they were last year," Dixon said. "They understand that and know that. They knew what the conference's situation was when they signed up for it as well."
Dixon didn't feel it would be appropriate to comment on the possibility of Connecticut and Rutgers joining the ACC, but earlier, when speaking of the Big East rivalries, he said "We're going to have a lot of Big East schools that are going to be with us in the ACC. In some ways it's almost going to be a north former Big East when we get to that point."
Dixon said the move will not affect Pitt's recruiting philosophy. As for the different styles of the two conferences the Big East is a physical, let-them-play league the two-time national coach of the year said the Panthers will adapt.
"We are recruiting the same kids," he said. "We are recruiting against the same schools. I don't see it being too much of a change for us in the recruiting world. We're going to find the player."
As for the 27-month waiting period in the Big East by-laws before Pitt can leave the Big East, Dixon said there should be more answers after the rest of the realignment around the nation takes place over the next few weeks.
Dixon is confident the Big East will survive, including the small, Catholic basketball-only schools such as St. John's, Georgetown and Marquette.
"There's too many good basketball teams, there's too many good programs," Dixon said. "They are going to do fine. They are going to survive. It goes back to when our conference had that shift eight years ago. We flourished. It survived. They will survive and they will do well."