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Big East fans received a rude awakening this weekend when they learned that two long-time football and basketball powers in their conference – Pittsburgh and Syracuse – secretly had submitted applications to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Given the fluid situation in NCAA football, with Texas A&M planning – and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State seeking – new conference affiliations, a major realignment is a foreseeable and it is reasonable that schools are assessing their conference status and lining up contingencies. School administrators would be negligent to do otherwise.

Responsible planning considers the options that best serve the needs of each institution. If such action results in a disadvantage for allied institutions, that’s the nature of business – and collegiate athletics is big business. Each team must contend with its circumstances to its best advantage.

Texas A&M, unhappy with the manner in which Texas altered the landscape of the Big 12 with its new Longhorn Network, openly expressed its dissatisfaction and went new conference shopping. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State soon followed suit. Although the actions of these three schools have created instability in the Big 12 Conference, to their credit, A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have been public about their concerns, intentions and actions.

In the Big East however, Pittsburgh and Syracuse acted with duplicity. These schools were secretive in their maneuvering and particularly in submitting applications to switch conferences. Whether acting independently or collaboratively, Pittsburgh and Syracuse could not mistake the detrimental impact of their actions on their fellow Big East schools. The manner in which these two schools acted was deceitful and reprehensible.

As a result of being blindsided, the welfare of the entire Big East Conference – institutions, players, students and fans – has been jeopardized unfairly. It speaks volumes, too, that the ACC would accept these applications in the same furtive manner in which they were submitted.

If Pittsburgh and Syracuse wanted to wager on a brighter future in the ACC, that’s their prerogative. But the move should have been done above board. As developments continued to pour in throughout the day, it was revealed that Big East Commissioner John Marinatto learned of the news in the Byrd Stadium press box before the noon kickoff of the Maryland – West Virginia game.

Hopefully, Marinatto’s first action was to call the remaining Big East football programs – Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, West Virginia and incoming Texas Christian – to elicit a pledge of unity. His next move should have been to Texas, and the remaining Big 12 teams – Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Texas Tech – asking them to rally around the idea of combining the two conferences.

In time there will likely emerge four 16-team superconferences. The Big 10, Pac-12 and SEC are predictably three of them. The race officially is on to assemble the fourth.

As the process moves ahead, there will be winners and losers. That is unavoidable. The manner in which transactions take place, however, is completely in the control of conference and school administrations, and should be conducted with openness and evenhandedness.

There is a place for deception in collegiate athletics. On the playing field, conference rivals will employ gamesmanship in an attempt to trick or mislead their opponents to gain competitive advantage – always within the rules though, and in keeping with the larger spirit of fair play.

Off the field however, these conference teams are a business alliance. In the board rooms and offices, transparency and integrity in dealings with one another are to be expected.