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Pitt To Pay $7.5M To Leave Big East Early

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PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Pittsburgh’s bitter breakup with the Big East
finally has an official separation date.

Pitt and the conference announced Wednesday that the school will
pay $7.5 million to join Syracuse in leaving the Big East for the
Atlantic Coast Conference on July 1, 2013. The Big East reached a
similar deal with Syracuse earlier this week.

The agreement with Pitt includes the $5 million the school
already paid after it announced it was switching leagues last
September. It also puts an end to an acrimonious split between Big
East and one of its longest standing members.

“We are anxious to compete in our final season in the Big East
and look forward to an exciting future in the Atlantic Coast
Conference,” Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said in a
statement.

The Big East later Wednesday night confirmed it had dropped its
lawsuit seeking $5 million from TCU reneging for on a commitment to
join the league and instead joining the Big 12. The conference said
in a statement that “TCU has fully discharged its obligations to
the Big East …”

Conditions of the settlement were not released, but a person
familiar with it told The Associated Press the Big East will
receive $5 million from TCU. The person spoke on condition of
anonymity because no announcement was to be made on the agreement.

As for Pittsburgh, the school initially agreed to abide by the
27-month waiting period required by Big East bylaws for a team
exiting the conference, which would have kept the Panthers in the
league until July 1, 2014. Things got ugly in May when the school
filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania claiming the Big East waived its
right to enforce a withdrawal notice after letting West Virginia
leave for the Big 12 early.

The Panthers argued because the Big East allowed West Virginia
to depart immediately _ after paying a hefty $20 million exit fee _
the conference could no longer hold Pitt to the 27-month withdrawal
notice. The goal wasn’t to go to court but to force the Big East to
get serious about settling.

After a dramatic year in which the beleaguered conference lost
three key members before reconstituting itself by extending
invitations to a number of schools _ including Central Florida,
Memphis and Temple _ the Big East is ready to move on.

“This is another step for the Big East to take toward a very
exciting future,” interim Big East commissioner Joe Bailey said in
a statement. “With the addition of our eight new members, the Big
East will be incredibly strong and vibrant.”

It also clears up what has been a murky immediate future for the
Panthers. First-year football coach Paul Chryst insisted the
conference talk was never a distraction and says the goal is to win
no matter which league the Panthers play in.

Besides, after a tumultuous 18 months that’s seen Pitt go
through four head coaches, Chryst knows the conference issue is the
least of Pitt’s problems.

“We’ve got a lot to just focus with just ourselves,” Chryst
said. “We’ve got a really good group of seniors. This is their
last year and anything but focusing on this year … would be
cheating everyone.”

ACC commissioner Jim Swofford said the conference has been
“preparing to welcome both teams” for the past year. He’ll only
have to wait 11 more months to unveil an expanded 14-team league
that will include five former Big East members. Miami and Virginia
Tech left the Big East after the 2003-04 academic year and Boston
College followed a year later.

The ACC will go to a nine-game conference schedule in football
when Pitt and Syracuse join and every school will play in both the
men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments.

Pitt joined the Big East in 1982, three years after it was
founded, and was one of the charter members when the league
expanded to football in 1991.

The Panthers have struggled to stay become nationally relevant
in football, never winning an outright conference title. They were
awarded the Big East’s Bowl Championship Series bid in 2004 after
finishing in a four-way tie for the league crown before getting
blown out by Utah in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pitt’s most notable conference win came in 2007 when the
Panthers upset rival West Virginia in the regular season finale to
deny the Mountaineers a spot in the BCS title game.

The rivalry is on hold indefinitely, however, thanks to a series
of moves that have shook up the college landscape.
____
AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo in New York
contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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