Pitt rings in a new era

Written by Sam Werner on .

IMG 0911ANEW YORK -- Today marked Pitt's first day as an official ACC member, and the Panthers rung it in (literally) in grand style at the NASDAQ Stock Market in New York City. Check out tomorrow's Post-Gazette for a full rundown of the day, including thoughts from Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson and ACC commissioner John Swofford. For now, here are a few other tidbits from the day that was in Times Square...

- No one was shy about praising the new-look ACC from a basketball perspective. Swofford called it "the strongest collection of basketball programs ever assembled in one conference," and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim estimated that the 15-team league could regularly get 8-10 teams into the NCAA Tournament.
"When you look at the quality of the basketball programs over the years, in a collective sense, I think those numbers are reachable," Swofford said. "You have to go out and do it on the court, you have to go out and perform, but when you look at this collection of basketball programs, they have done that consistently in past years. Certainly there's no reason they can't continue to do that."

- One of the most significant next steps for the ACC is figuring out exactly what it wants to do in terms of its media future. All the other major conferences have or will soon be launching their own networks, and that certainly looks like the next step for the ACC. At the league meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., in May, Swofford preached patience. Now that realignment looks to be completely finished, though, that appears to be at least part of the next step for the league.
"We want to brand ourselves as a new 15-member league that takes into account the great history and tradition that's there but also the new membership, from a collective standpoint, and the geographic regions that we're in that we haven't been in in the past," Swofford said. "I think it's really important to do that going forward. You're always looking to maximize your television opportunities. The great thing about where we are right now is there already have been some doors opened that weren't necessarily there in the past. One of those is at least a discussion about whether an ACC channel would be the best thing to do as we talk to our television partners, mainly ESPN and the ACC Network. What's the best thing to do with that going forward. Does it make good business sense for them and for us? So we'll be doing that type of analysis as we move forward."
Swofford also said that he doesn't anticipate the ACC looking to expand in the near future, and major college conference realignment is probably settled for the next 12-15 years.

- It was a long-awaited day for Pederson, who announced the move in September of 2011. He has integrated himself in the ACC over the past two years, though, and said it has been a seamless transition. Part of that obviously stems from the fact that there's no football/basketball separation in the new league. Pederson had nothing but kind words for the Big East, but given the way the league split up, it's clear that football/basketball was the wedge issue that split the league in two.
"It's easier in this league than any league I've ever been in to arrive at a vote because everybody seems to have their eyes focused on the same kind of things," Pederson said. "Like-minded people, like-minded institutions can usually accomplish a great deal. To be in an all-sports league for us, with everybody going in the same direction, everybody doing the same things, is really important for us and we'll start to see the benefits of that in all our sports."

- Swofford said Pederson has been essential in the ACC making sure this was a smooth transition for all involved. Most notably, Pederson has served on an ACC subcommittee exploring the league's bowl options.
"Steve has brought wisdom, he's brought experience, he's immediately made an impact around our table," Swofford said. "I think that comes from the years of experience that he has had, the respect that he enjoys from athletic director colleagues and simply the way that he handles himself. He handles himself extremely well and he represents Pitt extremely well. He's just been terrific in terms of the transition, and being a positive and prominent part of the transition, not only of Pitt but all the decisions that the group has to make going from 12 teams to 15 teams. Steve, simply put, has been outstanding."

- I spoke to Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer about what Paul Chryst can expect going into a new league. Beamer made the Big East-to-ACC jump in 2004, and the Hokies won the conference their first year in the league. Pitt has nine new teams on its schedule this year, so Chryst will have his work cut out with advance scouting.
"When you're playing teams year-in, year-out, you update your gameplan a little bit, but you know what they're going to do and what their tendencies are," Beamer said. "Now, there's all these new teams and it's a completely different preparation. I think for me, going to the different stadiums for the first time, that was exciting, seeing different places. I think the new schools are in for good, different settings."

- Former Pitt All-American receiver Larry Fitzgerald was the Panthers' representative in New York Monday. Pederson surprised Fitzgerald Monday night by retiring his No. 1 jersey. He's the ninth Panther to have his number retired, joining end Mike Ditka (No. 89), running back Tony Dorsett (No. 33), offensive lineman Bill Fralic (No. 79), running back Marshall Goldberg (No. 42), defensive end Hugh Green (No. 99), quarterback Dan Marino (No. 13), offensive lineman Mark May (No. 73) and linebacker Joe Schmidt (No. 65).
In just two years with the Panthers, Fitzgerald made his mark on the Pitt record book. He finished his career with 161 catches for 2,677 yards. He won the Biletnikoff Award in 2003 as the nation's best receiver and finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting.
Fitzgerald said he was honored to be Pitt's representative to welcome the school into its new conference.
"The quality of competition, the level of competition is going to be at a whole new level," Fitzgerald said of the move to the ACC. "It's going to open new recruiting opportunities for us as a university, put us in viewers' households that we weren't in before. It's just going to raise our university and our city, which is a great sports town, to a new height.
"It's kind of like joining a team that's already a contender. We're going to a conference that is already competing at the highest level with the Virginia Techs, the Florida States, the Miamis. These are schools that have already played for national championships and are always in BCS bowl games. That's the level of competition you want to be at. To be the best, you have to beat the best."
He also said he's looking forward to Heinz Field returning to the rocking, sold-out atmosphere he played in front of in 2003.
"Every week you're playing in front of a packed house, and we want to get back to that," Fitzgerald said. "When you bring in games like Florida State, it's the only game in the country. It's going to be a packed house and the nation gets to see, not only the University of Pittsburgh but a great city in Pittsburgh, one of the best sports towns in all the country."
Fitzgerald added that he think Chryst is the right man to get Pitt back to the top of college football. He said he has spoken to Chryst a few times and likes what he has heard.
"He's got an infectious attitude where he wants to do it the right way, bring in the right kid that's eager to be a great football player, but is also going to study in the classroom and be a good citizen in our community," Fitzgerald said.

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