One of the few days during my sophomore year of college where I completed the rare double feat of both attending and staying awake during my political philosophy class, I learned about the prisoner’s dilemma .
The classic prisoner’s dilemma goes as follows…
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal.
If one testifies and the other does not, the suspect who does testifies goes free while the other does five years in jail.
If they both testify, they both do three years in jail.
If neither testifies, they both do six months in jail.
Obviously, the safe play would be for neither prisoner to testify, but neither man can fully trust that the other won’t be tempted by the prospect of avoiding jail.
Should the Big Ten try to raid the Big East like the ACC did in 2003, Pitt, Rutgers, and Syracuse will all find themselves in a real life prisoner’s dilemma.
It is probably in all of their best interests to stay in the Big East where the path to the BCS is clear and the focus is on the Northeast where fans can easily travel to all of the member schools (even South Florida is an easy flight from most Northeastern cities).
However, the Big Ten offers revenue and football prestige that the Big East simply can’t match.
If any of these three schools were to be lured by what the Big Ten has to offer, it would cripple the Big East. The Big East would be forced to add at least one team from either the MAC or Conference USA, but neither conference would be able to provide one school that would come close to filling the void left by Pitt, Rutgers, or Syracuse.
A defection from the Big East would probably also lead to a split from the non-football schools. There has been talk for a long time that DePaul, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Villanova would leave the Big East and join forces with Dayton, St. Joe’s, and Xavier to form a Catholic school conference.
Additions of multiple football schools would almost certainly hasten that split.
With the fragile balance of the Big East at stake, I was struck with mixed feelings at last night’s rumor that Pitt was prepared to accept an invitation to the Big Ten as early as Friday.
There are obvious positives for a potential Big Ten move: There is money and football prestige that I mentioned earlier. Then there’s the benefit of not being left behind in a depleted Big East, similiar to the relief felt by the prisoner who got away scott free when he testified and other didn’t.
But if Pitt moves to the Big Ten, Panther fans will not throw a party the way Boston College did with their move to the ACC.
Pitt is not a Midwest school; it is an East Coast school. Most of Pitt’s students come from cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, and New York. When Pitt students graduate, they usually end up in one of those four cities as well.
Panther fans have gotten the reputation as a group that doesn’t travel well, and when it comes to selling bowl tickets, our reputation is absolutely justified.
However, Pitt fans have been better about traveling to conference football games, and when it comes to basketball games at the Garden, Pitt does very well. This isn’t because fans travel from Pittsburgh; it’s all Pitt alumni who live near other Big East schools.
Pitt does not have nearly as strong an alumni base in Chicago, Indianapolis, or Detroit. If Pitt goes to the Big Ten, their fan’s reputation for not traveling is only going to intensify.
The Big East has been very good to Pitt, and if Pitt leaves for the Big Ten, not only will the Big East be on life support, but the blood will be on Pitt’s hands.
Then there’s the matter of how this would benefit Pitt in the short term.
Would Pitt football be able to compete with the Big Ten heavyweights? Would Jamie Dixon be able to continue to recruit the East Coast if his team were playing in the Midwest?
A move to the Big Ten represents an opportunity, but opportunity does not necessarily equate to prosperity.
At the end of the day, I hope that the Big Ten either decides against expansion or chooses Missouri and leaves the Big East alone, essentially forcing the prisoners to remain silent.
After all, things are good for Pitt right now. We play in the best basketball conference in America, we have a fairly clear path to a BCS bowl playing Big East football, and we're part of the Octonion .
Why should Pitt be in a hurry to ruin a good thing?