- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

The Atlantic Coast Conference voted yesterday to enter into formal discussions with Miami, Syracuse and Boston College in its effort to expand the league to 12 schools. The ACC also voted down a proposal to include Virginia Tech in the expansion process.

The vote, which came in a morning conference call among the conference’s nine university presidents, seems to assure the ACC of expanding by the 2005-06 academic year. An official announcement of the three additions should come in the next few weeks.

It is considered unlikely that the ACC would go this far and be this public in the process without the three schools having given strong indications they would accept invitations.

“Our member institutions reached agreement to begin formal discussions with Boston College, the University of Miami and Syracuse University to join the Atlantic Coast Conference,” ACC Council of Presidents chairman James Barker said in a statement. Barker, the president of Clemson, said this is the result of extensive studies by the league.

“Over the past 18 months, our conference has been involved in an intense and thorough strategic planning evaluation on the long-term direction of the ACC,” he said. “The priorities of this evaluation have been academic compatibility, commitment to student-athlete welfare, long-term financial stability and national athletic excellence.”

In a 7-2 vote Tuesday, the ACC first approved expanding from nine to 12 schools and targeting three Big East schools, but it hadn’t decided which ones. Duke and North Carolina were the only no votes on Tuesday but after recognizing the league was in an expansion mode voted in favor of adding three teams yesterday. The measure needed seven votes to pass, and Virginia apparently was the only school to vote against the three-school package.

Virginia introduced a proposal to include Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers had been pressured by Gov. Mark Warner and other state politicians to vote against any expansion that did not include the Blacksburg school, but that measure did not get the necessary seven votes. Therefore Virginia Tech could be left without a football conference if the deal goes through.

The move came on the eve of the Big East’s spring meetings, which begin today in Ponte Vedra, Fla., with commissioner Mike Tranghese trying to convince the three potential defectors to stay in his conference. The loss of three football-playing members would decimate Big East football and jeopardize the future of the 24-year-old conference.

“This comes as no surprise,” said Tranghese, who has accused the ACC of unethical negotiations with Big East schools. “We are looking forward to productive meetings this weekend.”

Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, who had said there was an even chance that the league would stay intact before he left Blacksburg for Florida, suggested the three schools might already have decided to leave.

“My resolve is to work as hard as we can to keep the Big East Conference intact,” Weaver said. “But obviously we don’t want to spend four or five days doing that and then have people say they’re gone. I’d rather if they’ve made up their minds, tell us up front so we can get on with life.”

Miami is the linchpin to the ACC expansion and the Big East’s survival. The Hurricanes — who have won five national championships in football — likely will dictate whether the three schools will jump to the ACC. Boston College and Syracuse have indicated they will follow Miami’s lead.

The Big East is expected to offer Miami concessions ranging from becoming a stronger football conference and dropping basketball-only schools — including Georgetown — to offering financial incentives.

Meanwhile, the ACC will take the necessary steps toward expanding to 12 by the 2005-06 academic year, if not sooner. The league will begin official talks and campus visits to the proposed members soon.

The new ACC, which could begin in 2004-05 if logistics including football schedules can be worked out, would have two six-team divisions and stage a championship football game. The addition of three major media markets — Miami, New York and Boston — would give the ACC considerable clout when its current television contract expires in the summer of 2006.

“I’m very pleased,” said Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, who was in Syracuse last night for the Terrapins’ appearance in the women’s lacrosse final four. “The athletic directors have been discussing the concept of expansion for six years. It feels very natural. … It’s time. The world is smaller for a lot of reasons. It’s different. We will truly be the conference of the Atlantic Coast. It’s energizing.”

The expansion would make the ACC one of the nation’s top football conferences, with Miami joining national power Florida State. A football title game should generate some $10million. The ACC also could realize additional income from a possible second berth in football’s Bowl Championship Series. An at-large bid in the BCS would bring in $13million for the league.

This would be the ACC’s most radical change in its 50-year history. The league has added schools just twice, Georgia Tech in 1978 and Florida State in 1991. But league administrators cautioned that this expansion is not a done deal.

“I don’t think it’s over by any means, but I’m glad we’ve come to this decision before the [Big East] started formal discussions,” N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler said. “A lot of people have accused us of being after money only. But we’re just looking to maintain our position financially. Some people thought staying where we were has been good, but it’s healthy we’re moving ahead as a cohesive group.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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