Today, the Big East and the SEC released the games for their Challenge series in hoops that will take place in late November. The interesting thing is that Pitt was conveniently left off of the slate.
This was at least somewhat expected when you really think about the current state of things between Pitt and the conference. Even though the Big East said later that Pitt's lawsuit against the conference had no effect on whether the Panthers would participate or not, most logical fans know it likely did.
While fans looking at this on the outside may have envisioned such a scenario, the people in Pitt's athletic department apparently did not and were floored by the move:
Pitt wasn't selected to play in the challenge this season, which came as a shock to athletic director Steve Pederson and coach Jamie Dixon when Gavitt called Wednesday. Dixon and Pederson told ESPN.com that they were promised by the league that it would be part of the challenge for the coming season -- and that the Panthers would play at home (Pitt played at Tennessee last year). Dixon said the Panthers had planned on the SEC game being one of their marquee home games as part of their non-conference schedule. Now, the Panthers are scrambling to find a replacement.
"We were led to believe we had a home game all along," Pederson said. "At no point were we told that we wouldn't get a home game. They've put us in a difficult spot. All Jamie and I were waiting on was who we were playing. We're very disappointed, obviously."
Gavitt said there were a lot of reasons for leaving Pitt out this season, and none had to do with the lawsuit the Panthers filed against the conference to leave by 2013 instead of the 27-month requirement that would keep the two schools as members until 2014. Pitt filed a lawsuit claiming the Big East has waived the requirement and should be allowed to leave without further penalty by the 2013-14 season. Pitt already paid half of the $5 million exit fee when it announced last September that it would depart for the ACC.
The Challenge initially was meant to have 12 games including all of the SEC teams while leaving out four Big East teams. As you know, both conferences have changed a bit since the deal was announced. The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M while the Big East lost West Virginia. So, it was quite possible that the two sides could have worked out two more games that would have allowed a marquee opponent in Missouri to get worked into the Challenge somehow. But here's the kicker - the Big East wasn't willing to work out anything despite efforts from the SEC to make things work.
The bottom line is that this uncomfortable situation could have all been avoided. Pitt left scrambling to find a marquee non-conference game wouldn't have been an issue if the Big East was merely willing to work with the SEC. Clearly the lawsuit does matter to the Big East and to claim otherwise is fooling no one.
More on this debacle after the jump.
And when it comes to notification, they apparently bothered to tell Louisville and UConn, two other schools not participating in the Challenge, months in advance that they weren't participating, but couldn't bother to do the same to Pitt, if you believe Steve Pederson's initial quote:
Louisville was told by the Big East "long ago" that the Cardinals wouldn't participate, according to a university administrator. Connecticut was told the same thing and thus agreed to play in the Jimmy V Classic in New York. Louisville hosted Vanderbilt last season while UConn hosted Arkansas.
Look, I get it. Because of the difference in number of schools in both conferences, some schools are bound to be left out. But the Big East apparently not only failed to give Pitt the same notification they gave other schools, but they didn't even bother to work with the SEC to get two more games set up. It's unfortunate that this is what this situation has devolved into, but such is life for Pitt who's heading to the ACC.
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