- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

University of Miami president Donna Shalala spent her morning in a public policy hearing discussing a doomsday scenario of who will run the country if Congress is decimated by a terrorist attack.

In the afternoon, the former President Clinton cabinet member dealt with a less weighty matter — whether Miami will join the ACC and lead to the possible destruction of the Big East.

Shalala met with the presidents of the five Big East football schools who would be left behind if — as expected — Miami changes leagues. According to presidents of the other schools, she said she hasn’t reached a conclusion on which league is in the Hurricanes’ future.

“She said she hadn’t decided, she hadn’t considered all the options yet,” Connecticut president Philip Austin said. “She has been traveling. … She was very honest and open, and we tried to be also. And I take her at her word.”

Shalala’s day began with a morning meeting downtown at the American Enterprise Institute and then a visit to the White House to drop off a report on the terrorist scenario to Vice President Dick Cheney. Later, she returned to the institute and listened to pleas to stay in the Big East for perhaps the final time in person.

The six presidents met for under an hour before Shalala left through a back door and avoided reporters on 17th Street. The other five met for a short time after Shalala’s departure before exiting as a group through the front of the building.

While the Big East held its meeting, the ACC took another step in the expansion process as its representatives, including Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, wrapped up their final campus tour in Syracuse. League officials already have visited Miami and Boston College, and the ACC can now officially extend formal bids to the schools.

“I can’t tell you exactly when all of that would happen,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said. “I guess I would say it would be in the foreseeable future rather than the distant future.”

Shalala is the linchpin in the process as fellow Big East recruits Syracuse and Boston College have stated they will follow Miami’s lead.

If the acquisitions go through, the Big East would be decimated and left with five football schools. UConn would be hurt most, as it is finishing a $90million football stadium for the program’s upgrade to Division I-A. The Huskies are planning on becoming a Big East football member in 2005.

The five Big East presidents and chancellors other than Shalala at the meeting — including Virginia Tech’s Charles Steger, West Virginia’s David Hardesty, Pittsburgh’s Mark Nordenberg, Rutgers’ Richard McCormick along with Austin — were subdued after meeting Shalala. They are keenly aware that the outlook of keeping all eight football schools in the league is bleak. Steger said the main issue is “financial.”

“We’re trying to assess what the scenarios are and how viable they may be,” said Steger, who stopped short of saying progress was made. “I think it was a useful discussion.”

Shalala, who came to the meeting via an alternative entrance, later issued a statement. The Miami president said there have been continuing discussions with both leagues, and downplayed the significance of a recent offer from the Big East that would guarantee the school $45million from the league in the next five years.

“Being a university president,” she said, “I fully understand the importance of making decisions based on doing the correct thing for your institution, not only for the short term, but the long term as well.”

The five Big East presidents plan to continue talking to Shalala by phone as their league is left in limbo. Austin did not read anything into the shortness of the meeting because there wasn’t anything left to say.

“At some point, [its] repetition of conventional wisdom,” the Connecticut president said. “It’s good to look someone in the eye and talk it out. I believe everyone there was being honest and forthright.”

Meanwhile, the ACC is ready to have final discussions with Miami and Shalala.

“Whenever she’s ready to do that,” Swofford said. “I don’t have anything set up with her at the moment. Obviously our visitations and her meeting today [in Washington] is a part of the ongoing process. I’m sure that will take place soon, if not the end of this week certainly the first of next week.”

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