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Old 05-21-2010, 01:02 PM   #1
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Pitts Dixon Uncertain about BE

JOHNSTOWN — Jamie Dixon doesn’t know what the Big East will look like in five years, but the Pitt basketball coach has a feeling it won’t look like it did this year.

“There’s going to probably be some changes,” Dixon said Thursday night at Sunnehanna Country Club, where he was a featured speaker at the Johnstown Panther Club’s annual banquet. “Change is part of conferences, and it has been a main part of it over the years at any conference I’ve been at. The WAC, the Big East, we’ve had changes in my 12 years. We’ve had a number of changes.”

But there’s a distinct possibility that these could be the most dramatic changes that have occurred not just in the Big East but in the NCAA in years. The Big Ten Conference, which has 11 members, has been talking about expanding, and with each member school reportedly getting $22 million from the conference last year, schools may line up for a chance to join. That could be a boon to Pitt – it’s rumored to be one of the schools that could be extended an invitation – or a bust, if other schools like Rutgers and Syracuse leave for the Big Ten.

The Big East isn’t the only conference that is anxiously watching and waiting to see what happens with the Big Ten. Notre Dame, an independent, is widely regarded as the conference’s top choice, but other schools from the Big 12, like Missouri, Nebraska and Texas, are being viewed as potential additions. Whatever happens could have a dramatic impact for others as well, with conferences nationwide getting in a virtual arms race for big-name – and big-money – members.

“It’s a big deal,” said Bill Hillgrove, who has been the radio voice of the Pitt men’s basketball and football teams for more than four decades. “Something’s going to happen, but nobody knows what. I think there are two key players – Notre Dame and the Big Ten commissioner (Jim Delany), who I probably think right now is the most powerful man in college sports.”

Hillgrove said that no matter the opinion of Dixon or Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt, the decision is out of their hands.

“I caution that anybody that thinks that coaches and athletic directors are going to make this decisions, it’s the top men,” Hillgrove said. “The chancellors and presidents will make the decisions, but I think Notre Dame holds the trump card. From there, everybody else will adjust.”

Notre Dame is a member of the Big East in basketball but not in football. The Big East has 16 members in basketball but just half that for football, which is the NCAA’s primary revenue sport.

“I would prefer for the Big East to remain the same, but I don’t know that that’s going to happen,” Hillgrove said. “Nobody does. We don’t know what’s going to happen. I hear people say that ‘It’s a done deal.’ No, there’s nothing done. I think Notre Dame has to declare what it’s going to do. And something tells me they have the whole pie and they’d like to keep it.”

And what if Pitt was asked to leave the Big East for greener pastures?

“They should accept the invitation,” Hillgrove said. “But we don’t know where it’s coming from. Will it come from the Big Ten? Will it come from the ACC? Or will they stay in the Big East and will it survive? I hope they stay, because the Big East this past year proved itself as the best basketball conference ever. And football has proven the fact that it can survive even the escapes of the Miamis, Boston Colleges and Virginia Techs. Can they survive this next earthquake? That’s the question.”

Dixon doesn’t know either.

“I think tomorrow we’ll be in the Big East,” he said. “That’s what I believe. Do I think it will be the same for the next 100 years? Probably not. It’s probably going to change somewhat. We’re going to be in a great situation. Looking at our situation academically, the university where it stands as an AAU institution, as a highly ranked academic university, where our athletic programs are, and our commitment by our administration, I know we’re going to be in a good situation in a good conference, in a power conference, and we’re going to continue to be a power player in the NCAA.

“I can’t tell you exactly what teams will be on our schedule five years from now, but we’ll be playing some pretty good teams,” he said.

Dixon won’t be leading the campaign to leave the Big East.

“We’re in the best conference in the country for basketball, and our conference in football is getting better and better,” he said. “There’s not a lot of complaints coming from us. If there’s changes, there’s changes. We have the administration in the background to make the adjustments, and we will.”

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