The Atlantic Coast Conference has received application letters from Pittsburgh and Syracuse to join the league, according to a high-ranking ACC official.
At least 10 schools have reached out to the ACC during the recent period of uncertainty about conference realignment, the official told The Associated Press on Saturday. The official declined to identify those schools.
The official added that presidents of the league's 12 schools during a recent meeting unanimously approved raising the exit fee to $20 million - up from $12 million to $14 million - for any member leaving the conference. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the league has not publicly announced any of the moves.
The Big East's exit fee is $5 million, though schools seeking to leave must provide notice of 27 months.
A jump by Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East could lead to another dramatic shuffle in college athletics. Texas A&M has already announced its intention to join the Southeastern Conference, leaving the future of the Big 12 in doubt.
Big East spokesman John Paquette declined to comment on the possible defections. Pittsburgh spokesman E.J. Borghetti said that athletic director Steve Pederson also wouldn't comment.
If the move goes forward, Pittsburgh and Syracuse would become the fourth and fifth schools to leave the Big East for the ACC in the past decade. Virginia Tech and Miami joined in 2004, and Boston College followed a year later as the ACC's 12th member.
Syracuse is a founding member of the Big East. Pittsburgh joined the league in 1982. The ACC official said their letters of application to the ACC were for full membership.
The New York Times first reported Friday night news of the talks involving the ACC, Syracuse and Pittsburgh on Friday night and CBSSports.com first reported Saturday the schools filed applications with the ACC.
Until now, the focus of this recent round of conference realignment has been on the Big 12.
The board of regents at Oklahoma and Texas have meetings Monday to discuss the possibility of the universities leaving that league. Oklahoma could be heading to the Pac-12, and taking Oklahoma State with it. Texas has stated its desire to keep the Big 12 together, but the Pac-12 could be an option as well as football independence, a la Notre Dame, which competes in the Big East in all other sports.
There also have been reports linking Texas to the ACC, a move that would likely include Texas Tech.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, who tried to lure Texas, Oklahoma and several other Big 12 teams to his league last summer, has said the conference is not looking to expand but has been approached by universities and is willing to consider growing again.
When the Big Ten was looking to expand last summer, there was plenty of speculation about Big East schools on the Big Ten's target list.
But the Big Ten added only Nebraska (from the Big 12). A few months later the Big East announced TCU from the Mountain West Conference was joining the league in 2012 as its ninth football member and 17th overall.
The Big East was close to signing a contract extension for its television rights with ESPN this year, walking away from a nine-year deal that reportedly was worth about $1 billion.
Big East Commissioner Marinatto said in August the Big East felt it was in a position of strength as the last major football conference to negotiate a deal because there would be more bidders on the market with NBC expanding its cable presence and Fox becoming more involved in college football.
The Big East's situation is tricky because of seven nonfootball members - such as Georgetown and Villanova - that help make it one of the nation's strongest basketball conferences. The basketball schools and football schools often have different agendas. But losing Pitt and Syracuse would be a huge blow to Big East basketball as well as football.
There already has been speculation that West Virginia would be a target for the SEC to balance out that conference and grow to 14 members if and when Texas A&M finally joins.
The other football-playing members of the Big East are Rutgers, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati.
The ACC would end up with 14 members if it adds Syracuse and Pitt, but 16 might make more sense. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has said his league is set with 12, but could reconsider if other conferences make additions.
It seems likely that the latest news about conference realignment won't be the last.
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