Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The ACC again has delayed a vote to expand, as final approval needed to gain three Big East teams remains elusive.

A statement from the ACC yesterday, on the eve of today’s expected decision, said a vote may not come until late this month. The second delay in a week clearly indicates ACC commissioner John Swofford doesn’t have the needed seven of nine approvals to invite Miami, Syracuse and Boston College for the 2004-2005 season. Maryland is among six schools backing expansion.

Swofford now is heavily lobbying Duke to reverse its long-standing opposition after Virginia’s blessing has been apparently blocked by Gov. Mark Warner, who fears the vote would harm Virginia Tech in a diminished Big East, according to ACC sources. Virginia president John Casteen and the school’s board of visitors are gubernatorial appointees, so Warner’s influence is enough to override university leaders.

North Carolina also is against expansion. While Swofford is a former Tar Heels athletic director, the school’s faculty is overwhelmingly opposed because of increased travel time and missed classes for athletes traveling to Miami and Boston.

Swofford has heavily lobbied Duke in recent days, appealing to the school’s sensitivity that the conference overall wants to expand and is being denied the deciding vote by Virginia politicians, ACC sources said.

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski opposes expansion and heavily influences school president Nan Keohane. The Blue Devils’ perennially poor football program would also be further diminished by playing Miami, Boston College and Syracuse.

A conference call among school presidents was expected today, and may still occur as the ACC tries to settle innumerable details. However, the timetable for approval is dwindling because Big East members’ exit penalty doubles to $2million after June 30. Swofford has denied being pressured by the June deadline, but the statement clearly indicates a desire to finish beforehand.

Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, chairman of the ACC Athletics Directors, said through a release that “the ACC is engaged in a thorough, member-driven, strategic planning process designed to ensure the long-term viability of the conference. The priorities of this evaluation have been academic compatibility, commitment to student-athlete welfare, long-term financial stability and national athletic excellence.”

The inability to make a deal has prompted a number of options to be considered, including gradually expanding by five schools in coming years. Several reports indicated the ACC might only invite Miami to become a 10-team league before taking Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame by 2006.

Twelve teams are needed for a football championship game, the revenue of which is the foundation for conference expansion. The ACC could petition the NCAA for a title game with 10 teams. The potential of adding Virginia Tech in coming years might overcome Warner’s opposition.

Taking only Miami might also shield the ACC from a recent lawsuit by five Big East schools that claims financial hardship because they are losing three marquee teams. Louisville, now in Conference USA, is a possible Big East replacement for Miami, and adding the Cardinals would retain the conference’s BCS eligibility.

N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler said it’s either three teams or none, citing studies that have shown a 10- or 11-team league wasn’t financially worthwhile.

There also are options for different football and basketball divisions. The football system separates powerhouses Miami and Florida State. Teams would play five divisional and three non-divisional teams, including one game as a traditional rivalry, such as Maryland-Virginia.

Other sports would use a north/south system, grouping Maryland in the North division with Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia and two North Carolina schools, probably Duke and Wake Forest.

One basketball option retains a league format with no divisions. Teams would play only certain schools twice, like in a two-division format, but overall standings would continue. This system might dispel Krzyzewski’s opposition.

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