- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

GREENSBORO, Ga. — The ACC will prepare a split into two divisions in the hopes of playing a football championship game in 2004.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said yesterday conference athletic directors will meet Sept. 10 to discuss divisional alignments in case the NCAA agrees to reduce its 12-team minimum for championships. A decision on whether an 11-team conference, which the ACC will become in 2004 when it adds Miami and Virginia Tech, can have a championship game isn’t expected until April. That would be too late to plan a November title game unless the division scheduling and championship venue already were decided.

Swofford was unsure whether a 2004 championship was possible even with NCAA approval. He also was uncertain which way the NCAA would go during a state of the league talk at the ACC Kickoff.

“I really don’t know. That’s a coin flip,” Swofford said. “It’s a little early in the process to handicap.”

However, officials from Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta; and Orlando, Fla., already have approached the ACC about playing host to the championship. Swofford said he will consider both the SEC’s permanent site system and the Big 12’s rotating venue for the title game. The ACC’s basketball tournament rotates, with MCI Center playing host to the men in 2005.

Swofford estimated the championship would generate the $7million to $10million annually needed to retain its current $9million a team payouts once the league goes to 11 teams. However, he didn’t want to rush the title game. Given that the ACC’s television contracts are renewed in 2005, the league might wait to gain a more lucrative long-term deal.

“You have to make sure the first time you do it well,” Swofford said.

The six- and five-team divisions should be decided in the coming months. Swofford confirmed the ACC remains interested in adding another team but wouldn’t say the league would do so just to reach the championship game minimum should the NCAA reject its recent request. Notre Dame remains the top choice of many league officials, but West Virginia, Boston College and South Carolina are possibilities.

“I don’t think it forces us to go to 12,” Swofford said. “We can operate effectively at 11. Twelve is optimal from a financial standpoint, but 11 works. The [college] presidents won’t go to 12 just to go to 12.”

Swofford defended the much-beleaguered decision to expand last month following seven weeks of uncertainty, including a surprising 11th-hour decision not to invite Syracuse and Boston College after touring both schools. Several ACC football coaches said they wanted the two schools so the conference could gain entry into the New York and Boston markets. Instead, ACC presidents invited Virginia Tech after Virginia Gov. Mark Warner threatened to veto any expansion by forcing Virginia to withdraw its needed vote.

“In 10 years, we’ll look back on this and see it would have been a mistake not to take Virginia Tech and Miami,” Swofford said. “In continuing to play a role of prominence … to be part of shaping the future, we have strengthened our conference in every respect.”

Swofford will seek a change in expansion voting to a simple majority instead of three-fourths approval. Miami and Virginia Tech won’t become voting members until July 1, but Swofford said they would be consulted on any possible expansion.

The ACC averaged more than 50,000 a game last year for the first time, Swofford said. A record seven of nine teams are expected to sell 30,000 season tickets this year. Maryland has doubled its season tickets in coach Ralph Friedgen’s two years to nearly 26,000. Friedgen expects to surpass 30,000 this year, which could force further Byrd Stadium expansion.

“I envision someday we’ll have a shot at 65,000 [seats] before I’m out of here,” Friedgen said.

Also, Swofford said Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese apologized for his conduct during the expansion. Swofford said Tranghese called and wrote a letter to say he was sorry for the way he acted before Miami and Virginia Tech bolted from the Big East. Swofford refused to say what the two talked about or what the letter contained.

Meanwhile, the ACC announced several rule changes, including the elimination of the “halo rule,” which forces defenders to let intended receivers or returners have a chance of running before hit. Also, the clock won’t start until the ball is returned instead of kicked. Unsportsmanlike penalties during touchdowns can be enforced on kickoffs instead of extra points. Sixty nonplayers and coaches will be allowed by team benches instead of 40, though one official joked he won’t stop the game to count people on the sideline.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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