- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 26, 2003

Virginia Tech, a darkhorse candidate as recently as Tuesday evening, is on the verge of joining the ACC following a formal invitation and a site visit by a conference delegation yesterday.

“Our member institutions reached agreement to officially offer membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference to the University of Miami and Virginia Tech,” Clemson president James F. Barker announced. “These two institutions represent and share the values for which the ACC has long been known. We feel they will be a great addition to our family.”

Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors yesterday unanimously authorized president Charles Steger to negotiate a deal with the ACC that would allow the Hokies to join the conference. Steger had said June6 that Tech wouldn’t accept an invitation to leave the Big East for the ACC and joined a lawsuit to prevent Miami, Syracuse and Boston College from making the switch.

However, Steger said yesterday, “We would be inclined to accept.”

“This is not a hard decision,” Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said. “It’s just a wonderful, wonderful day.”

It was not immediately clear when conference membership would take place, although the Associated Press reported it probably would be for the 2005-06 academic year.

Miami president Donna Shalala wasn’t as effusive in the wake of a 7-2 vote by the ACC’s presidents on Tuesday night in which Duke and North Carolina cast the dissenting ballots.

“We are very appreciative of the invitation from the ACC,” Shalala said. “We are disappointed that they have decided not to extend invitations to Boston College and Syracuse. Since this is a new proposal, we will evaluate it before making a decision.”

Still, it’s almost certain that Miami and Virginia Tech will accept the ACC’s invitation before Tuesday, when the fee to exit the Big East doubles to $2million. The Palm Beach Post reported that Miami will accept the invitation today.

Miami and Virginia Tech would leave Syracuse and Boston College behind, two institutions that were strong candidates to join the ACC early on but were not taken for political, geographic and financial reasons.

The unexpected turn of events briefly left Virginia Tech in the awkward position of suing an organization it was being invited to join.

Tech, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia filed suit June6 to stop Miami, Syracuse and Boston College from leaving the Big East for the ACC. However, Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore said Tech withdrew as a plaintiff yesterday as a condition of the ACC’s membership offer.

“This clears the way for Tech to join the ACC and remain in a viable and strong athletic conference,” Kilgore said. “None of this has been easy. Tempers have flared on both sides. … I hope all Virginians agree this has never been about ‘Hoos [the University of Virginia] or Hokies. This has been about the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The ACC’s decision prompted Boston College to release a statement lamenting the “unexpected vote.” The statement also said that the Big East was discussing future conference configurations of its members, including Miami and Virginia Tech. That could foreshadow a last-ditch effort to keep the would-be defectors at home.

Syracuse, like Boston College a founding member of the Big East, was equally frustrated.

“After having successfully completed the process as defined by the ACC, we are disappointed that a decision like this was made,” spokesman Kevin Morrow said. “Clearly there are issues that have come into play that outreach the quality and value of our institution and its athletic program.”

With a perennial football contender and a large media market, Miami had been the ACC’s top target since it launched its expansion raid on the Big East on May13.

But Virginia Tech, with a newly dominant football program in a small market, was an afterthought that was pushed to the forefront by Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who didn’t want one of his state’s premier universities left in a shrunken Big East.

With Duke and North Carolina opposed to any addition besides Miami, one more negative vote would have been enough to halt any move, so the pro-expansion ACC presidents were at Virginia’s mercy. Having to split the increased revenues 13 ways apparently did not appeal to some of the presidents, despite the temptation of establishing a presence in the Northeast. So suddenly what was supposed to be 12, 13 or 10 schools in the ACC became 11.

That left the conference one member short of the minimum mandated by the NCAA to stage a conference championship football game each year, a game that had been expected to produce more than $10million in revenue.

The ACC is expected to petition the NCAA for a waiver. However, Jean Ponsetto, chairwoman of the NCAA’s champions/competition cabinet, said no league has done so since the rule was passed in 1987.

Leagues with 12 members, such as the Southeastern and Big 12 conferences, could object to a waiver being granted to the ACC. So the ACC might be forced to pursue a legislative change by January in order to conclude its first 11-team football season with a conference title game.

There’s also the testy matter of dividing up the ACC schools into divisions. Will archrivals Florida State and Miami or Virginia and Virginia Tech be placed in the same division? And Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest long have battled one another, both on the court and in recruiting. Will they no longer all play home-and-home in basketball?

The Big East will be left with its own troubles.

Reducing from 14 to 12 schools for basketball is no problem, especially since Miami and Virginia Tech have had much less of an impact in that sport than defending NCAA champion Syracuse and Boston College.

However, the departure of the Hurricanes and Hokies not only will deprive the Big East of its top football programs but would leave just six members in that sport (when Connecticut replaces Temple in 2005).

The Big East’s lucrative automatic Bowl Championship Series berth expires in 2006, which could lead the conference to pursue Louisville and Cincinnati of Conference USA as new members, another step in what could be a domino effect in Division I athletics that began with the ACC’s bold move.

While Notre Dame, college football’s most storied program, is a Big East basketball member, the Fighting Irish don’t want to replace Miami as the conference’s football leader.

“We made it plain to the Big East when we joined in 1995 that we didn’t expect to ever be a member for football,” said Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler. “Our ability to be an independent is very important to us and would only change as a last resort. Our alumni and fans feel very strongly about that. We had hoped that the status quo would continue in the Big East.

“Everyone is waiting to see what happens now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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