- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Miami and Virginia Tech officially become members of the Atlantic Coast Conference today, which means — hallelujah! — they can now learn the Secret Handshake. But this column isn’t about that. Plenty of other folks will be holding forth on that subject. No, this column is about all the dominoes that have fallen in college athletics in the last year, since the Hurricanes and Hokies dumped the Big East for the ACC.

It’s absolutely incredible how many schools and conferences have been affected by the switch. My latest count, by no means final or official, has 23 athletic programs and 11 leagues being involved — all because Miami and Tech decided to move on to more monied pastures. See if you can keep up with me …

The ACC swiped Miami, Va. Tech and Boston College from the Big East.

So the Big East swiped Cincinnati, Louisville, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida from Conference USA.

So Charlotte and Saint Louis jumped ship from Conference USA to the Atlantic 10.

So TCU bolted Conference USA for the Mountain West.

So Conference USA swiped Tulsa, SMU, Rice and UTEP from the Western Athletic Conference, Marshall from the Mid-American and Central Florida from the Atlantic Sun.

So the WAC swiped New Mexico State from the Sun Belt and Idaho and Utah State from the Big West.

So the Sun Belt swiped Florida Atlantic from the Atlantic Sun and also added Troy State, an independent.

So Georgia State fled the Atlantic Sun for the Colonial Athletic Association.

Getting dizzy yet?

Think about it: The first domino fell in Blacksburg, Va., and the shock waves eventually were felt as far away as Irvine, Calif., headquarters of the Big West. ACC expansion might not have been, as embittered Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese predicted, “the most disastrous blow to intercollegiate athletics in my lifetime,” but its impact has probably been the most far-reaching.

I called Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell yesterday and asked him if he ever imagined his conference would be caught up in the Miami/Virginia Tech whirlpool. Farrell, who has been around the block a few times in his 24 years in college athletics, laughed and said, “Nothing really surprises me anymore.”

“I had an inkling Utah State and Idaho might be leaving the conference sooner rather than later,” he went on, “whether to the Sun Belt or the WAC.” Those two schools, you see, have had to go elsewhere to compete in football, because the Big West no longer offers it.

“I’m actually pleased they found homes for their football programs in the WAC,” Farrell said, “and if it took Miami and Virginia Tech to set the dominoes in motion, so be it.”

The Atlantic 10 was hardly harmed by the Big Shuffle either. Charlotte and St. Louis are two markets the A-10 had no previous presence in, “very desirable” markets in the view of commissioner Linda Bruno. As for the other conferences, something tells me life will go on. Marshall’s president, Dan Angel, might have put it best when he said, “Once you’re in the air, it doesn’t matter what direction [you fly in] too much.”

Besides, some of these schools have traditions of itinerancy. Take TCU. The Horned Frogs have been laying their eggs all over our great land in recent years. In the last decade, they’ve belonged to the Southwest Conference, the WAC, Conference USA, the Mountain West — and before long, they’ll probably petition to become members of SEATO.

Still, it makes your head spin. Twenty-three schools, 11 conferences — all of which are in a different place now than they were a year ago, when the ACC set the wheels in motion. And we aren’t done yet, not nearly. If you know anything about college athletics, you know that.

The next big shakeup, one administrator says, will be if the Big East ever splits in two — into a football-playing half and a nonfootball-playing half. “Then they’ll start picking off schools from other conferences [to fill out their ranks],” and the dominoes will begin falling again.

In Blacksburg, though, none of that matters. In Blacksburg, they’ve got what they want — admission to the ACC after half a century of waiting. My friend Robert, the Tech zealot, passed along this Web site posting by Hokies fan, whose comments, he claims, “say it all in a nutshell.”

“Right now,” the fan writes, “in Miami, there are probably 20 people that even know that [Thursday] is the Big Day.

“Next year, in Boston [when Boston College joins the conference], a bunch of people will know, but the vast majority of them will be sad about it.

“[Thursday], there will be celebrations in Hokie land that will rival, or even surpass, those from when we learned of our ‘99 Sugar Bowl bid. You’ve got Hokies going to Greensboro for a little party at ACC headquarters. There are parties being hosted in a lot of towns for [Thursday] night. It’s gonna be a great day.”

As for the parade, they’ve already had it, in a sense. Twenty-three schools and 11 conferences took part.

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