Less than 24 hours before the Syracuse University football program and its fans were preparing to take on the University of Southern California in a non-conference game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, a place the Orange have not visited since 1924, the Syracuse world turned on its axis.
On Saturday night, at about 9 p.m., New York Times reporter Pete Thamel posted this tweet:
"BREAKING: Syracuse and Pittsburgh in talks with the ACC."
The tweet had a link which led SU and Big East Conference fans to an article which said an unidentifiable source told the New York Times that Syracuse and the University of Pittsburgh were engaged in talks with the Atlantic Coast Conference. It also had this quote from SU Director Of Athletics Dr. Daryl Gross: "I can’t comment on that. Maybe that’s even too much to say."
Thamel's article was met with hysteria from Big East bloggers and tweeters, who saw the conference-ending meteor in their telescopes.
"If Cuse and Pitt leave, impossible to not blame BB school sabotage," tweeted ruscoop, the tweet name for SB Nation's Rutger University blog On The Banks. "They forced incompetent commish on conf, tried to force Villanova FB."
Some thought that the SU-Pitt news was just a threat to Big East commissioner John Marinatto to get his acted together and start doing something about the conference's future.
At first, because of a few things -- 1) Thamel's article not only seemed a bit gossipy, like other conference realignment/expansion rumors, but it didn't have a named source (I am always skeptical of any story that quotes ONE source that is unidentifiable) and 2) why would Syracuse, a founding member of a league that has lasted 32 years, leave? -- skepticism ran through my brain.
However, on Saturday morning, about 12 hours after Thamel's article, CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy posted this article on his blog. The opening paragraph read:
"The Atlantic Coast Conference has received letters of application from Pittsburgh and Syracuse, a high ranking league official told CBSSports.com."
As a SU and Big East blogger, who has followed both since I gained the ability to hold the remote control, this news was shocking. It was official, the Orange, who's fans ridicule(d) the University of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College for years because they left for the ACC in '04 and '05, are, six years later, doing the same thing.
"My first thought when I heard this was, "West Virginia must be way farther along with the SEC than everyone thinks," wrote Sean Keeley of SB Nation's Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician Saturday. "While I think Pitt and Syracuse could have made this decision without knowing that, something tells me the impending departure of West Virginia (or at least the obvious truth that Oliver Luck and WVU want to leave) was impetus here.
"...At the end of the day, if this happens, the Big East has no one to blame but themselves. Too many years waiting on the sidelines and too many missed opportunities to solidify the league."
If you're a Syracuse football or basketball fan who's holding on to hope -- or using these words: "Wow, (insert deceased family member's name here) is rolling in their grave right now -- that the move to the ACC is still just a rumor and everything in the Big East will be okay come Sunday morning. Stop. Accept it. Because once a school sends their application to another conference, it's a near guarantee they're moving to a new conference. (Actually, an announcement may come Sunday.)
"Certainly the next step is the ACC presidents will have to formerly get together and, you know, offer an invitation," said Brett McMurphy in a Sunday afternoon radio interview with Brent Axe, a local radio host for 1260 A.M. "The Score" in Syracuse. "But, as a Big East official told me, presidents of universities do not put in for applications to other conferences unless they know they will be accepted... Obviously, though, Pitt and Syracuse wouldn't apply for something unless they have been asked to apply."
So, what now? What does this mean for Syracuse and the Big East? Well, I can only give you a very brief rundown of what I know so far.
The Impact On The Big East
By Big East rules, a school cannot leave the conference without paying a $5 million or waiting 27 months. My guess, is that SU and Pitt will gladly pay the $5 million and try to move into the ACC by next year. The immediate loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh drops the Big East to just seven football-playing members -- remember, Texas Christian University is joining in all sports in 2012. So, to survive -- or not lose its automatic-qualifying spot in the Bowl Championship Series -- the Big East needs to quickly add a football-playing member (Baylor University and Iowa State University have expressed a lot of interest). Currently, the Big East is now in (survival) scramble mode as it also could lose West Virginia University and the University of Louisville to the ACC or Southeastern Conference, and its automatic BCS-qualifying spot.
Of course, what's really hurting the feelings of Big East fans is the amount men's basketball will suffer. Despite the current college-sports climate which focuses on the dollar figure that football accumulates, the Big East is and always will be a men's basketball conference. Losing Syracuse basketball, which has been a figure head of the conference since its beginning, and Pittsburgh basketball, which has been a national ranked program for years now, is huge. Unfortunately, even before playing a single game, the ACC becomes the best college basketball conference in the nation. For Big East fans that hurts to read and is tough to accept, even though, they must.
The Impact On Syracuse
It's a brand new day for SU fans. For years, the Orange faithful has loathed the ACC for taking Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College; and hated Duke University for, well, being Duke. Generations of the SU fanbase have grown up hating everything about ACC basketball and now they'll need to be a part of it -- yes, it still is unofficial that Syracuse will be an all-sports member of the ACC: "I will decline comment," Gross said just before the Orange took on USC Saturday night. "We are looking out for the best interest of New York's College Team."
Leaving the Big East behind will be extremely difficult for many Orange fans, especially, those who witnessed all those battles with West Virginia in football and wars against Georgetown, St. John's and UConn in basketball.
In the Big East, the Carrier Dome is appreciated and marveled by basketball fans, while in the ACC it will never be as good as Cameron Indoor Stadium. In the Big East, every March meant a trip to New York City and the chance to play at Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament -- Oh, the memories. In the ACC, it will be in Greensboro, NC -- though, there is still hope that, maybe, a view years from now the ACC will be relevant enough in the Northeast that MSG is a viable spot for the ACC Tournament.
However, as much as the blue-collar Syracuse fans dislike it, memories cannot pay coaches salaries or make presidents of universities a boat load of money. Money is made with big television contracts with ESPN and BCS-bowl berths sponsored by Tostitos. Because of this landscape, the move to the ACC is the best one for Syracuse. It's a tough fact to accept, but the Orange athletic department needed to do something before it was left in the Big East/ACC-expansion/realignment dust. Despite having solid history, the Big East is a failing league, and, right now, in this Darwinism-like atmosphere, failing leagues don't attract good programs that can help a conference survive.
It will be different and it will not feel right at first. But, in the end time heals and (fans) people learn to love something new. For SU fans, it's good bye home and hello tobacco road.
Yes, even with a sappy ending I am sure it's still not easy to accept.