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Pittsburgh Panthers: What Effect Would a Move to the Big Ten Have?

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Pittsburgh Panthers: What Effect Would a Move to the Big Ten Have?
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It was a mere 45 days ago that Big Ten Commish Jim Delaney announced the conference's Council of Presidents/Chancellors would begin a "thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion."

Delaney, who repeatedly referred to conference expansion talks as a "back burner" issue, was asked by the council to provide recommendations for consideration during the next 12 to 18 months.

Now, if the plethora of rumors swirling around the Internet are true, Delaney's "back burner" issue is about to be brought to the forefront in a big, big way.

According to several reports, including personal statements by student athletes on Twitter, Pittsburgh athletic department officials held closed-door meetings with all of the university's student athletes last week about the potential move.

Pitt message boards lit up with the news and validity of the rumor. Although not verified by the university or either conference, it was somewhat reinforced when those Pitt athletes who posted about the meeting on their Twitter accounts were forced to remove the posts.

This weekend, many outlets are reporting that Pittsburgh has indeed decided to accept the Big Ten's invitation and will formally announce the move to the Big Ten on Thursday, Feb. 4—a coincidental (or not) day after National Signing Day.

Pitt's current conference, the Big East, is no stranger to having its members leave for greener pastures. In 2004, the ACC snatched away Virginia Tech and Miami, two of the conference's cornerstone programs, and the following year, Boston College followed suit.

Pitt's move to the Big Ten doesn't necessarily expand the conference's footprint—and the Panthers won't bring in any new television markets—but the university does meet the conference's academic and institutional "requirements."

Pittsburgh is a member of the American Association of Universities, a prestigious group of leading research institutions. All 11 of the current Big Ten universities are members.

The Panthers' quick acceptance also would allow the Big Ten to realistically stage a conference championship game in football as soon as 2012.

The move would also re-establish the heated Penn State-Pitt rivalry, giving the Nittany Lions a true rival for the first time since joining the conference 20 years ago.

Football seems to be the driving force behind the expansion talks. The addition of a football championship game would offer a huge payday and allow the conference to remain relevant past the Thanksgiving holiday.

But the addition would also be a huge get for men's basketball, the other big revenue generator. Big Ten hoops, already quite good from top to bottom, would become even tougher.

Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon is on record as being against the move, however.

"I can't see how any [Big East] team would improve where they're at by movement," Dixon said last month. "Every situation, you have to look at why you're doing it to improve yourselves. And I can't see how moving from the best conference in college basketball history would be a good thing for anybody."

And he may have a point.

The move would certainly benefit Pitt football more than Pitt basketball. The hoops team would have to abandon longtime rivalries with perennial heavy-hitters Syracuse, Georgetown, and Connecticut, and replace them with distant schools like Iowa or Northwestern. 

The Panthers built a new, on-campus basketball arena less than a decade ago, largely because of the demand to see Big East teams in action. The move, in Dixon's opinion, could be detrimental to the interest in Panthers basketball.

The argument could also be made that adding teams with the histories of Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Illinois isn't so bad.

The wait for Feb. 4 begins.

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