While it appears that the ACC is trending toward eliminating divisions within the conference, Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke isn’t exactly opposed to keeping the Atlantic and Coastal divisions.
In fact, while Lyke admitted that she may be biased, she’d actually like to keep a divisional ACC instead of just combining both into one division-less conference.
“I do want to do what’s best for the league, we all do at the end of the day,” Lyke said on the Packer & Durham Show Thursday. “I think I’m slightly biased toward keeping the divisions honestly. I think you’re always playing for something, and there’s more people in the conversation, the more schools in the conversation, I like that aspect of it.”
Lyke pointed to the chase of competing for an ACC championship game every season, Pitt’s own 2021 ACC title clinched after an emotional win over Virginia to clinch the Coastal division. With a divisional title, Lyke said that teams know that if with a divisional win, they’ll go to the title game — as opposed to finding out at the very end of the season.
“We’re having lots of conversations,” Lyke said, “but we’ll certainly do what’s best for the league.”
With a division-less ACC possibly the ACC with potential College Football Playoff bids, especially in a four-team format that’s expected to last a few more seasons, Lyke feels confident that the ACC is able to get teams in either way. With an 11-1, 10-2 team, depending on who the wins and losses came against, she said there’s a very good case for making it.
“We don’t know (what’s going to happen) other than we know (the CFP is) going to expand,” Lyke said. “So, with that premise that you know that it’s going to expand, how do you get the most number of teams in, right? That’s our goal. How do we position our conference for those slots?”
Pitt Director of Athletics Heather Lyke was a guest on Packer & Durham today and discussed the state of college football, future scheduling dynamics, Kenny Pickett to the Steelers and more.@Pitt_LykeAD @MarkPacker @WesDurham #H2P 🎥 @ACCNetwork pic.twitter.com/gY5Mfu5fyl
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) May 12, 2022
Changes Needed in the NCAA
With NCAA president Mark Emmert stepping down from his role at the end of the 2023 college football season, change is coming to the NCAA. But with all of the noise surrounding the prevalence of the NCAA transfer portal — and NIL deals by extension — and potential conference and CFP upheaval, Lyke said it’s time for a change.
“I think we just need a fresh start,” Lyke said. “We’re overly regulated, there seems to be a lack of enforcement just in general and I think we need to take a big, broad look at it.
“I do think we have to sort of break it down and look at football separately. … I think football has grown differently, and I think it’s just different challenges. Whether it’s opting out of Bowls, whether it’s the transfer portal, whether it’s NIL deals, I mean, it’s just Power Five schools, Group of Five, the FBS group of football is different than FCS, and we’re governed together. I think the future of it is taking a look at the 10 conferences and see whether or not we can come up with a structure that helps our coaches, manages the challenges we’re facing right now in a very different way.”
Lyke said that there’s a void of leadership in the NCAA right now, but she pointed to ACC commissioner Jim Phillps as a steadying voice for the conference. With his propensity to serve as a coalescer of ideas, active listener and a bridge between people and ideas, she said the ACC is in a good place when it comes to future leadership.
How benefits are managed, especially when it comes to NIL deals, will be a major talking point in the future, along with ideas like eligibility and overall NCAA management.
Pitt Football’s Resurgence
Pitt’s rising culture, complete with an ACC championship over Wake Forest at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. last December, has come in large part because of Kenny Pickett’s rise as one of the top players in college football last season. But Pat Narduzzi’s steady head at the helm of the program cannot be overstated.
“(Narduzzi’s) built a culture that is extraordinary,” Lyke said. “I’ve watched it now for five years and he’s just got an unbelievable, great group of kids together. Great coaching staff continuity there in many ways, so it’s incredibly exciting.”
“It’s been profound, it’s been awesome. The city of Pittsburgh been — you know, they follow winners, right? It’s the city of champions. They care deeply about it. Our season ticket sales are higher than ever. There’s an excitement, just a genuine interest. They care about ACC football.”
While Pickett will not be playing for Pitt in 2022, he won’t be far away. He won’t even need to leave the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to prepare for games. After being selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pickett will be staying in Pittsburgh for a while.
“It was pretty much a Cinderella story,” Lyke said. “I know we all wanted Kenny, but I don’t know if you’ve seen all the videos of young kids in city of Pittsburgh, wearing Steelers jerseys, watching the draft — their parents, my kids too, stayed up way later than they wanted him to because they wanted him to go in the first 10 picks — but everybody let their kids stay up to watch him go.”
In selecting Pickett, Lyke said that the Steelers couldn’t have picked a better person. Pittsburgh is home now for Pickett.