- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

The ACC will invite Virginia Tech to join the conference as a means to salvage the fading chances of its plans for expansion.

Virginia Tech emerged yesterday as a compromise candidate put forward to win over the decisive seventh vote from the University of Virginia that ACC officials need to gain approval for their expansion plans.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner earlier had blocked the university from casting an affirmative vote for the conference’s plan to invite Miami, Syracuse and Boston College to leave the Big East Conference and join the ACC. Warner feared such a move would hurt Virginia Tech by leaving it in a diminished Big East.

However, adding Virginia Tech to the ACC is expected to gain Warner’s approval, allow Virginia to deliver a decisive vote in favor of expansion and end a two-week deadlock.

Currently, Duke, North Carolina and Virginia oppose expansion, leaving advocates of the proposal one vote short of the seven required in the nine-member ACC.

The Virginia Tech plan was offered by Virginia president John Casteen during a three-hour conference call among ACC school presidents as league officials seek a resolution before a July1 deadline that would require Big East teams to pay double the normal $1 million exit fee, according to ACC sources. Virginia Tech president Charles Steger will discuss the offer with the school’s board of visitors today after meeting with Georgia Tech president T. Wayne Clough last night. An ACC official confirmed “informal contact.”

Virginia Tech would be the 13th team in a possible move to a 14 team ACC. Several long-term scenarios have the ACC also seeking Notre Dame by 2006. Virginia Tech is one of five Big East schools that filed suit against the ACC on June8 for attempting to raid its conference. The plaintiffs claim that losing the three schools would create financial harm.

However, the Big East is preparing for the schools’ departure by expanding to 16 basketball teams; ESPN.com reported that Marquette and Xavier are candidates to join the conference. If Miami leaves, the Big East will seek Louisville for both football and basketball.

ACC commissioner John Swofford vaguely referred to Virginia Tech in a June8 statement that claimed that a Big East team involved in the suit, which Swofford did not identify, had sought admission to the ACC.

Virginia Tech officials later said they were not interested in joining that conference, but a move to the ACC would bolster an already solid program. However, ACC sources said that Virginia officials don’t like the prospect of losing a recruiting edge over its in-state rival by allowing Virginia Tech to join their conference.

Virginia Tech was the ACC’s fourth choice when it was considering expansion candidates. ACC officials did not visit Virginia Tech, as it did with its three other Big East candidates.

The move to Virginia Tech comes after the presidents failed to vote for the second time in a week on a plan once considered a done deal. ACC sources said the league believed it had the seven approvals before proceeding with expansion.

Duke and North Carolina have long opposed the ACC’s first expansion since adding Florida State in 1991. Still, Swofford continues to lobby both schools, hoping to change one vote. Virginia’s position seems unmovable given Warner’s influence overrides the university’s president and board of visitors that are gubernatorial appointees. Several university presidents, including Maryland’s Dan Mote, also have written to Duke and North Carolina leaders trying to persuade them to change.

A scheme to invite only Miami for 2004-05 before adding another two schools the following year is gaining momentum as a fallback plan. Given the ACC didn’t want to expand until 2005, waiting another year wouldn’t prove detrimental. However, it would allow other conferences or the Big East to negotiate with the schools against the ACC.

Miami may be reluctant to move to the ACC alone, but acrimony over the Hurricanes’ public lobbying to join the ACC has caused some Big East leaders to believe Miami’s departure is now necessary. The ACC needs Miami to salvage its turbulent expansion plans to create a lucrative football championship game. Not gaining any teams after the two-month process would be a devastating setback for the ACC.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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