Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson has taken his share of criticism since returning to the university in 2007.
It's hard to go unscathed when your football program features a revolving door of coaches over a two-year span, ultimately turning the Panthers into a punchline.
Now, though, there is no punchline, and there are no more jokes. Despite the strikes Pederson made in the football hiring department, he saved himself with one grand slam stroke of maneuvering that has secured the Pitt athletic department well into the future.
He got Pitt into the ACC.
So it comes as little surprise to see that Pederson has earned a five-year contract extension through at least 2018. Getting Pitt into a stable conference home should qualify as his crowning achievement. Because Pitt has a future now. A solid future. Now, there are undoubtedly those staying behind in the Big East who blame Pitt and Syracuse for what has happened to that league. Their surprise defections triggered yet another wave of realignment, and ultimately spelled doom for the Big East as everybody knew it.
Fingers have been pointed countless times. What ifs have been asked even more. What if Pitt and Syracuse had stayed? Would college football have realigned again? Those questions are not based in reality, of course. Reality says the Big East was a fraying league at the time Pitt left, one that many believed would eventually be torn apart because of its clashing football and basketball interests. Reality says realignment was set in motion before Pitt and Syracuse left. Reality says Pitt looked far into the future and saw the ACC -- not the Big East -- still standing.
It is hard to blame Pitt for doing what was in its best interest. The ACC was always the more stable, lucrative conference. It made perfect sense for the Panthers to make the jump. So quietly, Pederson worked backchannels to make the move happen. In the news release announcing Pederson's contract extension, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg only mentioned the ACC move in his statement.
Nordenberg said, in part, "Just two years ago, during a period of significant conference instability, Steve was a driving force in helping us to find the best possible conference home. When we received an invitation to join the ACC, Pitt not only had the chance to move to an outstanding athletic conference but also became aligned with some of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions."
Now, take a gander at what is left of the soon-to-be renamed Big East:
No guaranteed tie-in to the Orange Bowl.
No high-profile bowl tie-ins, period.
No big boy seat at the College Football Playoff revenue distribution table.
And, most important of all, no TV contract that pays $17 million per school per year, potentially on the way up to $20 million per school per year.
Had Pitt not been proactive, it could be sitting where UConn sits today.
The move in itself is a program changer. And it is enough to gloss over the bad football hires Pederson made in succession (Mike Haywood, Todd Graham) and the other criticism that has drifted his way. Pederson deserved the extension the second Pitt joined the ACC.
The next challenge is for the Panthers to prove themselves worthy.