- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s aggressive plans to expand have not been finalized yet — and there is a chance Virginia could foil the plan altogether.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said he was told by ACC commissioner John Swofford that nothing has been decided officially despite news that the ACC voted Tuesday to expand from nine to 12 teams beginning as early as the 2004-05 school year. The conference is expected to invite Miami and two other Big East schools — likely Syracuse and Boston College — to join.

“I will take John Swofford at his word that the ACC presidents have not formally voted,” Tranghese said in a statement yesterday. “I will take [Miami athletic director] Paul Dee at his word that Miami intends to take its time in reviewing its options.”

The Big East will make a counterproposal to Miami in what promises to be a series of fiery league meetings starting Saturday in Ponte Vedra, Fla. There is a possibility the eight Big East football schools will break off and form their own conference. There also is talk that a revamped Big East might include only schools that play Division I-A football, dropping the five schools that don’t — including Georgetown.

“I am anxious to meet with our conference members in Florida and am prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve the 24-year history of the Big East Conference,” Tranghese said. “This is a conference that is worth preserving.”

There also seems to be some doubt whether the ACC will generate the seven votes necessary to expand. The three Big East schools are expected to be voted on as a package, not individually.

The presidents of the nine ACC universities likely will have another conference call in the next few days to vote on a package to extend invitations to Miami, Syracuse and Boston College.

The ACC wants to expand to 12 teams, the minimum needed to stage a conference football championship game under NCAA rules. A title game should create some $10million in revenue. Adding major markets in Miami, Boston and New York also would provide bargaining chips for a new television deal. The current Bowl Championship Series and television deal end after the 2005-06 academic year.

However, Virginia may be the glitch in the expansion plan. Virginia is under pressure from Gov. Mark Warner and some state legislators to vote against any expansion if it does not include in-state rival Virginia Tech. No other ACC school is strongly in favor of Virginia Tech, according to an ACC source.

A “no” vote by the Cavaliers could derail the entire expansion plan. Seven of nine votes are needed to continue along the expansion road. North Carolina and Duke on Tuesday voted against expansion.

There is also some concern within the ACC that the league has a limited window to get a resolution because of the media frenzy surrounding the situation.

Former Virginia athletic director Terry Holland said Virginia Tech has little support in the ACC. Holland, who retired as AD in 2001, is now an assistant to Virginia president John Casteen, who ultimately will cast the ballot.

“I don’t think there is any chance that Virginia Tech would be included in expansion,” Holland said in a Charlottesville radio interview. “Although they have sort of been in the picture the whole time, they’ve never really been in the picture.”

An ACC expansion would have far ranging effects nationally and likely destroy the Big East. Expansion also would set the stage for a handful of super conferences to strengthen their power after the current BCS deal expires.

Established programs like Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Pittsburgh might have to shop for new conferences, or the Big East could recruit schools from smaller conferences and set off a domino effect of schools switching conferences.

Regardless, the expansion effort has dramatically changed the focus of the ACC. Much of the conference’s tradition is based on men’s basketball, where the conference has produced nine national champions in its 50 seasons — the last Maryland in 2002. The league offers some of the nation’s most compelling rivalries, led by Duke and North Carolina battling for dominance on Tobacco Road. Recently, Maryland-Duke has become a matchup that pulls in top television ratings.

But some of those rivalries that built the ACC will be threatened if the league grows. Basketball may be the conference’s heritage, but it is now clear which sport is the driving force.

“The thing that made our league is basketball,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters earlier this week. “Football is great, too. But the two-division concept in basketball for our league would be really bad.”

In a revamped ACC that could start play as early as 2004-05, a basketball team would have home-and-home series with its five division opponents and play the six teams in the other division once each. That creates the possibility that Maryland would meet Duke or North Carolina — or both — only once a season.

“It’s a football decision,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who hopes to preserve those twice-a-season rivalries. “Let’s face it.”

The decision to invite Miami and two other Big East progams would turn the ACC — a relatively lackluster football conference except for Florida State — into a power conference on the gridiron. The Hurricanes are widely regarded as the nation’s top football program after reaching the national championship game the past two seasons.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is livid about coming into a new league and replacing the Orangemen’s traditional rivalries with unappealing matches against Florida State and Clemson.

“It’s about money, power and football in any order,” he said. “It’s football. It’s always football. Football drives everything. If football fails, it’s dead. We’re making another decision based on football. To be in this league makes no sense.”

Currently, the ACC has a round robin format with each team having home-and-home series with all eight conference opponents. Expansion would mean two six-team divisions. Each team would play 16 conference games — 10 as part of home-and-home with divisional opponents and playing the six teams in the other division once.

Several division splits are being considered. One has Maryland, Virginia and the four North Carolina schools in one division and the other six schools in another. A more likely scenario is a north-south format that would split the four North Carolina schools. A North Division also would include Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland and Virginia. If Duke were part of that, the division would house the last three basketball national champions (Duke, Maryland and Syracuse). The South would have both Florida schools along with Georgia Tech and Clemson. An east-west format is also being studied.

Miami wants to be in the same division as Florida State in football despite the two being perennial powers. They generally meet early in the season now and wouldn’t want to meet again in a league championship game. Plus, by playing early in the season, the game’s loser would have enough games left to earn an at-large BCS bid, which would mean an extra $13.5million for the conference.

A divisional lineup would mean ACC teams will not play every other conference member each season. as has been the case. Teams would play five division foes and three from the other division. For instance, Maryland might play Georgia Tech only every other year. Virginia might meet either Florida State or Miami in a season, but not both.

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