- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2003

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s funnier creations is the RAMJAC corporation, the merger-crazed conglomerate in “Jailbird” that owns almost every company in sight. (Motto: “Acquire, acquire, acquire.”) Its owner is a reclusive widow who disguises her identity by becoming, of all things, a bag lady.That’s kind of what’s going on with the ACC and the University of Miami — though I wouldn’t describe commissioner John Swofford as a bag lady. Hurricanes athletic director Paul Dee confirmed over the weekend that his school is thinking about joining the ACC, and Syracuse and Boston College reportedly might do the same if Miami decides to jump. That would leave the ACC as the unrivaled RAMJAC of the East Coast — and the Big East looking more like the Sort of Big East. No wonder Big East commish Mike Tranghese sounded nervous a while back when he called the ACC “a bunch of hypocrites.”And who can blame him? Miami has the top football program in the country, recent winner of 34 straight games. Syracuse just won the NCAA basketball championship — and draws the biggest crowds in college hoops history. The Boston market, meanwhile, is one of the nation’s five biggest. No conference can lose three members like those without being seriously diminished.Such is life, though, in college athletics these days. In pro sports, it’s the players who are the free agents; in college sports, it’s the schools. College presidents and athletic directors are always on the lookout for a better deal — more TV money, more exposure, more prestige. And let’s face it, the Big East has done plenty of looting itself. Villanova, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Virginia Tech all came from the Atlantic 10 (or its precursor, the Eastern 8).The way Tranghese is carrying on, you’d think the Big East had a football tradition like the Southwest Conference’s. The SWC, I’ll just remind you, was around for 80 years before forces — economic and otherwise — pulled it apart. The Big East was formed in 1979, and its football conference was cobbled together in ‘91. In gridiron terms, it’s barely more established than Conference USA.Which is why its members are more vulnerable to the lures of the ACC; their loyalty to the Big East doesn’t run nearly as deep. As for Big East Football, well, there’s no other conference quite like it. Only half the schools in the Big East compete in it — the ones that have I-A programs. Did anyone seriously think Miami was going to be content with an arrangement like that indefinitely?Picture college athletics as a game of Monopoly. When the ACC added Florida State in ‘92, it was like buying Boardwalk — as far as football is concerned. And if Miami comes aboard, it would be like adding Park Place (and the conference could start putting hotels on both properties!) Miami and Florida State under one roof … Mind boggling, huh? It would be like Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten, Tennessee and Florida in the SEC. Never has the ACC had that kind of football clout.You almost feel sorry for Ralph Friedgen. He’s done a miraculous job of resurrecting Maryland football, even finishing ahead of the Seminoles one year, and now he might have to contend with the Hurricanes, too. If the Terrapins beat out those two for an Orange Bowl berth, the school should consider replacing the statue of Testudo the Turtle with one of Fridge the Football Coach. (It also might want to build another addition to Byrd Stadium. With the prospect of Miami joining the conference, the place already seems smaller.)Syracuse’s impact on ACC basketball — or Maryland basketball, for that matter — wouldn’t be quite as dramatic. It would, however, give the conference another virtually automatic NCAA bid (and occasional title threat). Imagine: Duke, Garyland, North Carolina (with Roy Williams at the helm) and possibly Syracuse (along with increasingly Demonical Wake Forest). Talk about a Murderer’s Row.The big question, of course, is: Where does it end? If the ACC octopus — actually, it’s now a nine-opus — becomes a twelve-opus, will that be enough? Or will the conference set its sights on other markets, such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or northern New Jersey?And if that happens, will the ACC change its name — to the RAMJAC Conference or something equally appropriate?

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