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The Morality of NCAA Conference Realignment

The Frontpage Graphic at TheACC.com Today

An interesting read about the conference realignment currently going on in Division I of the NCAA. This weekend, it was announced that the ACC (home of my graduate alma mater: Virginia Tech) had accepted the application of the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University for inclusion in the conference. Pitt and Syracuse are leaving the Big East conference. Most of the talk about the move has centered on it simply being a logical continuation of the recent upheaval in the conference alignment landscape. Last year Nebraska left the Big 12 (currently 10 teams) for the Big Ten (now 12 teams). The PAC-10 grabbed Colorado (from the Big 12) and Utah (from the Mountain West). TCU agreed to join the Big East after this year. Now that may be in jeopardy. While some bemoan the altering of the landscape, most have concentrated on traditional rivalries being broken up, and the lack of sense in the geography (Texas Christian is in the east?!), I hadn’t heard many voices talking about the ethical questions. Jayson Stark, a baseball writer for ESPN that I follow on Twitter, tweeted about this article from Dana O’Neil about the ethics. Here is a taste of the ethical part of her piece:

The bulk of the blame, though, goes to the people who are making the decisions. No one likes to talk about integrity more than university presidents, right? Yet no one fails to walk the walk quite as well, either.

In defense of her university’s move, Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor explained that leaving the Big East was in the university’s best interest “as conference realignment gives some instability to the landscape.” What she — and everyone else who has taken their bag of toys and run — failed to acknowledge is that by leaving, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are the ones creating the instability.

Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg, meanwhile, said, “We did make it clear within the Big East, we were willing to improve the conference in any way we were asked. At the same time, we made it very clear that if other opportunities did arise, we would feel obligated to seriously assess them and look at the long-term future of the University of Pittsburgh.”

Not only is that a 400-level class of doublespeak, it is steeped in irony eight years old. In 2003, Boston College bolted the Big East for the ACC. Pittsburgh and four other schools sued BC with none other than Nordenberg explaining the decision.

“This is a case that involves broken commitments, secret dealings, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, the misappropriations of conference opportunities and predatory attempts to eliminate competition,” he said at the time.

That’s all true.

Unless, of course, breaking commitments, secret dealings, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, misappropriating conference opportunities and predatory attempts to eliminate competition are to your own betterment.

Which is why none of this should be so surprising.

It’s emblematic of the me-first world we live in, of cash valued far more than moral integrity, and of panic rewarded and loyalty trampled.

An interesting reason to pause and question the process. Admittedly, I am torn by this. I’m not sure how you allow schools to choose without requiring them to do some work behind the scenes. This smells bad, but I’m not sure it is unethical. Still, promising one conference that you are committed, and then leaving for another seems like it is not ethical. That false face and lying, often blatantly, makes it worse to me. Perhaps part of my difficulty is that beyond Virginia Tech being in the ACC, they were “poached” from the Big East several years ago (along with the Miama, and a year later Boston College). Additionally, I was openly wondering (including a tweet) whether VT should be looking to move to the SEC before the ACC fell apart. Now that seems unlikely due to the increased exit fee (recently moved to $20 million to leave the ACC) and the strengthening of the conference with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse. There are also rumors that other schools will be joining the ACC as well (rumors revolve around UConn and Rutgers at this point).

Anyone have any other thoughts on the ethics of all of this?

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