- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2003

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese concedes his league is in a “crisis” as it enters league meetings this weekend. The survival of the conference is in jeopardy after the ACC voted this week to expand and targeted three Big East schools as additions.

The Big East’s main objective at the meetings in Ponte Vedra, Fla., is to convince Miami to stay in the fold and maintain the Big East’s identity as a viable big-time football conference. Retaining the Hurricanes would keep the league intact.

If Miami bolts, two other Big East schools — likely Syracuse and Boston College — also would depart to form a 12-team ACC. Meanwhile, the Big East will offer financial incentives and radical changes — perhaps even dropping the league’s non-football schools, including Georgetown — in an attempt to keep Miami.

“It’s a crisis,” Tranghese told the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard. “I’m talking to the University of Miami. No one else. Anybody that’s tried to call me, I’ve shut them down. Our interest is Miami. I believe if we can make a good case for Miami to stay in the Big East, our issues are resolved.”

Tranghese apparently has found an unlikely ally in Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who is urging ACC member Virginia to vote against expansion if Virginia Tech is not extended an invitation. Virginia voted Tuesday for expanding the ACC by three schools as the proposal got the necessary seven votes and passed 7-2. But a “no” ballot from the Cavaliers on the final vote could kill the entire process. Duke and North Carolina are on record against expansion.

Miami said it could be a deal breaker if the ACC doesn’t invite Syracuse and Boston College. Most ACC schools prefer the northeast pair because they add major television markets. If the three receive bids and accept, Big East football would be in shambles, leaving Virginia Tech to find a new conference or stay in a depleted Big East.

The Big East will play on Miami’s loyalty as a reason to stay. The Hurricanes have been a member for 13 years.

The conference will pitch a number of proposals this weekend to try to retain Miami. Here are a few scenarios the Big East might consider:

• Becoming a league of only programs that have Division I-A football and dropping the basketball-only schools: Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova and Providence. A football Big East could look to expand into a superconference of 12 teams by taking schools from smaller conferences like Conference USA and the Mid-American.

• Having the football members and basketball-only schools act as separate conferences with different finances under the Big East umbrella. The football league also would pursue expansion toward becoming a superconference, including staging its own championship game. The five basketball-only members — six with Notre Dame — would need to add schools.

• Give Miami significant financial incentives. The athletic department reportedly lost $1.5million during the 2001-02 academic year despite winning football’s national championship and making the NCAA basketball tournament. The Hurricanes have been unhappy with the Big East’s distribution of revenue and want a bigger cut. They also want help mitigating travel expenses as a southern school in a Northeast league.

The Big East would be forced to become a basketball-only conference if Miami and two other teams depart. That would go back to the conference’s roots, when it began with seven private schools in 1979. The football league began in 1991. If the three schools depart, the five remaining football schools would have to look for new affiliations or add programs from lower conferences and build a weaker conference.

“There is no Big East [football] without Miami,” Boston College football coach Tom O’Brien told the Boston Herald. “That’s the No.1 reason [to leave]. Without Miami, I don’t see the Big East as a viable football conference.”

The basketball league also would take a hit with the loss of national champion Syracuse and strong programs at Miami and Boston College.

“Georgetown would basically be back where it was when Dave Gavitt arrived [and founded the league],” CBS basketball analyst Billy Packer said. “If Mike [Tranghese] stays in the mix, he will pick up the pieces as best he can. The league may turn out to be a combination of schools from the Atlantic 10, Conference USA and the remainder of the Big East. It could work, but it would have lower marketing ability.”

Meanwhile, the ACC is expected to act quickly with a vote among conference presidents to settle on which three teams it plans to invite. The league hopes to resolve the Virginia issue quickly and expedite the expansion process. ACC administrators know a rapid resolution is in their best interests and limits time for the Big East to mount a counterattack.

“I think something has to be done in the next week,” Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine told reporters as the ACC meetings wrapped up Wednesday. “You know [the Big East] is going to do something. We can’t just wait.”

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