I was planning on some non-Big Ten expansion material this week, yet a flurry of rumors about the University of Pittsburgh joining the Big Ten are flooding my inbox. Let’s put aside my personal assessment of Pitt as described in the Big Ten Expansion Index post (where I said that the school fit the Big Ten academically and athletically, but the fact that it wouldn’t bring in a single new Big Ten Network subscriber would kill any chance for the Panthers). The Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries has gone through the anatomy of this rumor (where Pitt athletes were supposedly told of the move in a closed door meeting) and correctly notes that it’s ridiculous. At the same time, I just wanted to point out a few additional and very basic points to this story which would show why any reasonable person would conclude that this rumor is false:
(1) I negotiate large business deals with large corporations for a living. In every business deal that I have ever worked on (whether it was for several thousand dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars), the parties enter into a confidentiality agreement at the beginning, where breaching such confidentiality would almost immediately kill that deal. If Pitt’s administration was stupid enough to tell a couple of hundred teenagers and early-20s students the most highly confidential information that you could possibly think of and expect such information would be kept secret for a week when almost all of them wouldn’t even be affected (since the earliest that Pitt could join would probably be 2013, which would mean anyone older than a freshman would no longer be at the school by that time anyway), then the school (a) doesn’t deserve the financial windfall of joining the Big Ten since it can’t be trusted to keep such important information under wraps and (b) would have been an egregious breach of confidentiality that would likely nix the deal.
(2) Let’s assume that Pitt’s administration was indeed as stupid as described in point #1. If at least several hundred people knew about such an important and Earth-shattering news story ahead of time (because if the athletes found out that type of information, it is reasonable to assume that they’re going to start telling their roommates and family members immediately), you wouldn’t see just a handful of random Tweets and Facebook statuses that were supposedly taken down and erased forever. There would be literally hundreds of first-hand Tweets and Facebook postings (not just “I heard a rumor” references) confirming this information.
(3) The supposed deletion of web postings described under Point #2 only comes up if you actually think that Twitter and Facebook are going to start changing their entire user policies to cover up some Pitt rumors at that school’s request. Seeing that these and other Internet companies constantly battle with the Chinese government over censorship issues (and thereby risking the potential revenue of over a billion users), I highly doubt either social networking site is going to all of the sudden start engaging in that type of censorship because the University of Pittsburgh SID called in a favor. These companies’ business models are entirely based on the free flow of information.
(4) At the same time, as blind as the mainstream media might be at some points, an outlet such as ESPN or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette would’ve received some type of word if every single Pitt athlete knew what was happening. It’s tough enough to keep 10 people from leaking information in areas of society way more important than college sports (i.e. the White House), so if you honestly believe that a few hundred students received first-hand information about a major conference move and absolutely none of them leaked that to the mainstream press that follows them everyday, I don’t know what to tell you.
All in all, the coaches might get a phone call a day or two before a possible announcement (like Mike Brey did as he described when Notre Dame almost joined the Big Ten in 2003), but it is unfathomable to me at multiple levels that (a) Pitt would tell its athletes of a conference move ahead of time at all in the first place and (b) even if Pitt wanted to tell its athletes, that it would do so an entire week in advance of an announcement.
UPDATE #1 (2/10/2010): Teddy Greenstein from the Chicago Tribune has stated that any “Pitt joining the Big Ten” report is ”bogus” and cites sources from the Big Ten itself.
(Image from The Unofficial Visitor)