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ACC expansion plans have ripple effect across country

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2003

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. Intending to shape the next generation of college sports instead of getting swept up in it, the Atlantic Coast Conference is moving forward with its aggressive expansion plan.

Big East schools Miami, Syracuse and either Boston College or Virginia Tech are the targets of the ACC's expansion, but the move would affect much more than just a few programs.

Sensing that football and the lucrative Bowl Championship Series have made the 12-team superconference the wave of the future, the ACC acted. Commissioner John Swofford acknowledged Wednesday that presidents voted 7-2 the day before to bring three new teams into the fold, with hopes of realignment by 2005.

Now, the suddenly beleaguered Big East, the Pac-10 and everyone in between must scramble to make sure they have the numbers to remain viable over the next several years.

My posture has always been pro-expansion,'' Florida State athletic director Dave Hart said. It's for all the reasons that should be obvious, even if you're a non-visionary.''

The nine-team ACC hoped to keep the process quiet. But when John Thrasher, chairman of Florida State's board of trustees, leaked word of the vote Tuesday, expansion became a very public and awkward situation.

Essentially, the ACC is trying to raid the Big East's top teams. It would create a shakeup not seen in college sports since the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995 and its top teams merged with the Big Eight.

We're trying to do what's best for our conference in the future,'' Swofford said.

The Big East, meanwhile, is on a mission to save itself, knowing that if it loses football power Miami along with Syracuse this year's basketball champion and a solid football program it could turn into an also-ran in the ever-growing big-conference culture.

The Big East's annual meetings begin Saturday near Jacksonville, and they should be intriguing.

I am anxious to meet with our conference members and am prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve the 24-year history of the Big East Conference,'' commissioner Mike Tranghese said. This is a conference that is worth preserving and we should all look forward to the challenge.''

Miami athletic director Paul Dee maintains his school has not yet been contacted, and moving is no sure thing. But it seems like the right move. Dee acknowledged the Hurricanes have done feasibility studies that show transferring to the ACC would be financially beneficial. And, on the surface, being in the same conference with in-state rival Florida State looks like a great bet for the 'Canes.

We have to do a lot of things,'' Dee said. There's a lot more consideration to it than simply saying yes or no.''

Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim shares some of the same misgivings that Duke's Mike Krzyzewski voiced last week. Boeheim feels as if basketball teams are pawns in these negotiations.

It's about money, power and football in any order,'' he said. It's football. It's always football. Football drives everything. If football fails, it's dead. We're making another decision based on football. To be in this league makes no sense.''

The ACC's next move is to invite three teams into the league. Each expansion candidate must get votes from seven of the nine league presidents to be invited.

Miami and Syracuse appear to be easy choices, but the third team is trickier. Miami would like to bring Boston College in along with Syracuse. Virginia, at the urging of Gov. Mark R. Warner, wants Virginia Tech. Since there are already two schools against expansion, Virginia could be the third if it doesn't get Tech, and could conceivably block any invitation from being made.

Swofford, however, knows there have to be three new teams to make this work. Under NCAA rules, conferences aren't allowed to hold a lucrative football title game worth $12 million to the Southeastern Conference unless they have a dozen teams.

Swofford said he hopes the 12-team conference would begin play by 2005, although it could come sooner; the thought of three teams playing as lame ducks in the Big East for two seasons is awkward.

Either way, terms of TV contracts and the Bowl Championship Series the main cash sources for the programs will be revamped after the 2005-06 school year.

Those deadlines are likely targets for conferences around the country to reach the 12-team threshold meaning practically every team and conference is subject to change.

Already there are rumblings that Big East member Pittsburgh might be lured to the Big Ten to give that conference 12 teams. The Pac-10 would need two more teams, as well. If the Big East was to lose three teams, it might start looking at places like Conference USA to survive.

Then, there's Notre Dame.

A member of the Big East in basketball, the Fighting Irish are one of the few independents left in football. They have their own TV contract with NBC, a special deal to get into the BCS and what looks like a ton of leverage if they care to be wooed.

We've had several conferences express an interest in having a conversation if we wanted to have a conversation, but we've chosen not to,'' Irish athletic director Kevin White said last week in a prepared statement. We love the situation the way it is.''

Right now, the situation is changing daily, and everybody feels they have something at stake.

It could have a trickle down effect,'' Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson said. If it's Miami and some additional institutions, it's like an onion. There are a lot of layers.''



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