Pittsburgh Sports Now’s coverage of ACC Media Days is sponsored by Maximum Hoops Player Development, Pittsburgh’s premier basketball skill development organization. Maximum Hoops offers year-round basketball camps, workouts & clinics for boys & girls of all ages, with a focus on expert teaching and coaching by former college players & coaches, to help your athlete maximize their overall basketball development.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With 11 newcomers to the lineup, there aren’t a lot of expectations for the Pitt men’s basketball team in 2017-18.
But one of the big reasons that fans are likely to come out to the Petersen Events Center this season is the renewal of the Backyard Brawl, when the Panthers will host West Virginia on Dec. 9.
The former Big East rivals haven’t played since 2012 and the visit from the Mountaineers is a bright spot in what is an otherwise drab home non-conference slate. But external factors may again be forcing the rivals apart.
The ACC is going from an 18-game to a 20-game conference schedule beginning with the 2019-20 season and coinciding with the launch of the ACC Network. In addition to the games against conference opponents, Pitt typically plays in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, though not this season.
That will account for 21 games against power-conference opponents on an average year. This season, Pitt only has 21, with the 18 ACC games joined by WVU, Penn State and either Oklahoma State or Texas A&M.
If Pitt wants to keep that number the same once the conference schedule shifts to 20 games, something is going to have to give, and it might end up being games against regional rivals like Penn State and WVU.
“It will change dramatically what we’re able to do with our non-conference schedule,” Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings said on Wednesday at the ACC’s media day. “Some games that we’ve traditionally wanted to play, we’re not going to be able to play. You’re going to start the conference season probably in early December.”
Stallings feels that the issue won’t be limited to Pitt and that many conferences going to a 20-game schedule will cause fewer and fewer non-conference, power-conference games to be played.
“Some of those traditional rivalries that we’ve had, and I’m not just talking about Pittsburgh, but all across college basketball, I think you’re going to see some of those go by the wayside, because we can’t afford to play those games when we have eight total non-conference games on the schedule.”
The ACC Network, on the other hand, remains a vital key to the conference’s financial viability. The league’s contract with ESPN carries heavy penalties if the network is unable to get the network off the ground, but after a recent big win in a carriage contract with Altice USA, it looks like the network is in good shape to have a smooth release.
“Altice USA is the fourth-largest cable system in the country and will deliver the ACC Network to approximately 4.3 million subscribers across 21 states, and significantly, New York City,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “This news combined with the continued efforts by everyone working towards a successful launch in 2019 translates to terrific progress at this point in time. We’re highly pleased with the current status of where we are from a network standpoint, and we continue to be right on schedule, if not slightly ahead of schedule.”
The Panthers and Mountaineers are currently playing under a four-year agreement that lasts through the 2020-21 season.