A general view of the Carrier Dome during a 2006...

A general view of the Carrier Dome during a 2006 game between the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and the Syracuse University Orange at the Carrier Dome. Credit: Getty Images

SYRACUSE -- When the history of the rise and fall of the Big East conference is written, the turning point undoubtedly will be identified as the league's decision to turn down the reported $1.2 billion television rights deal ESPN offered last spring. Had the Big East grabbed that golden egg, it might not be scrambling to the degree it is now to cobble together a football conference strong enough to maintain its BCS automatic qualifier status.

That decision and the uncertainty it spawned at a time of shifting conference alignments ultimately left the door open for Syracuse and Pittsburgh to depart for the Atlantic Coast Conference in September. Although the ACC TV package promised a slightly greener pasture, Syracuse athletic director Darryl Gross says it wasn't the money as much as the prospect of "stability and sustainability" that lured his school and Pitt.

"The Big East had an opportunity while we were there to get a terrific deal that would be very close to what the ACC deal was," Gross said in a recent interview with Newsday. "It's not like we were leaving the Big East because the ACC has more dollars. We had the opportunity while we were voting members to raise the dollars in the Big East as well, and we had a great deal on the table that didn't go through for whatever reason. We didn't get consensus on it . . . But going forward, we need to have stability and sustainability.

"If the ACC's [TV contract] was an A-plus deal, theirs was at least an A-minus to an A. That's one man's opinion, and I'm sure they'll still have an opportunity to do a wonderful deal once they figure out their game plan."

Gross made his comments before the Big East announced on Friday its plans to invite Boise State and Air Force as football-only members of the conference and Houston, SMU and Central Florida as all-sports members while also hoping to add Navy as a football-only member. Although Syracuse and Pittsburgh must remain in the Big East through the 2013-14 academic year, their departure leaves the conference with six FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) football schools plus eight basketball-only schools. Commissioner John Marinatto has said the Big East plans to expand the number of football schools to 12.

The television deal the Big East turned down reportedly would have paid its football schools an average of $11 million per season, which is slightly less than the $12.9 million ACC members currently receive. But when the Pac-12 signed a much richer contract, the Big East decided to wait until it could put its rights on the open market next year in the hope of gaining a bigger slice of the TV pie.

Gross said Syracuse "tried to do everything we could in the Big East to keep that together. We wanted to see a deal happen; we wanted to see expansion happen. We were for all those things . . . It was just a timing matter. Things were fluid. So, you've got to look at a bird in the hand and two in the bush."

Some Syracuse supporters bemoaned the loss of traditional Big East rivalries, but Gross said he has taken steps to maintain the basketball rivalry with Georgetown and that the ACC is open to having its conference tournament in the New York area. The Orange also can rekindle old football connections with Maryland and Boston College in the ACC.

While Syracuse stands to gain financially, the promise of stability at a time of upheaval in major college athletics is the most reassuring aspect of the move. "This is a 50-year decision," Gross said. "So, it's a relief, but it's more of a vision for us to position ourselves in the right way."


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