Virginia ups heat on ACC

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

HARTFORD, Conn. The attorney general of Virginia was added Thursday to the Big East lawsuit seeking to stop the Atlantic Coast Conference's expansion plans.

In a move that could increase pressure on all ACC schools especially Virginia attorney general Jerry Kilgore signed on to motions filed by plaintiffs Pittsburgh, Connecticut, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Rutgers.

The lawsuit, filed against the ACC, Miami and Boston College last Friday in state Superior Court, seeks millions of dollars and an injunction to stop the two schools from moving from the Big East to the ACC. Syracuse is also a candidate to jump to the ACC.

When the lawsuit was filed, the names of two Virginia assistant attorneys general were listed as counsel for Virginia Tech. Kilgore's name appeared on the lawsuit Thursday. The attorney general's spokesman, Tim Murtaugh, said Kilgore has not changed his stance.

''As the official state lawyer for Virginia Tech, Jerry Kilgore signed off on the suit weeks ago and maintains his support for Virginia Tech to defend its interests,'' Murtaugh said. ''Virginia Tech really needs to be affiliated with a viable athletic conference.''

If the ACC plan goes forward, it would put Virginia in a strong, 12-team league, but would leave Virginia Tech in a stripped-down Big East.

Kilgore is the second high-profile politician from Virginia to weigh in on the issue. Earlier this week, Gov. Mark Warner urged the parties to find an outside mediator to intervene and avoid a long, expensive legal battle.

Kilgore's addition to the lawsuit is viewed as important because it shows that he is squarely on the side of Virginia Tech in a legal battle between two state universities. Leaders at Duke and North Carolina have expressed their opposition to the expansion and Virginia president John T. Casteen III is a key swing vote. Seven of the nine ACC schools must approve expansion.

Attorneys general in West Virginia and Connecticut are already listed in the case.

''We are pleased to have the Virginia attorney general join the attorneys general of Connecticut and West Virginia on our case, which only serves to emphasize the great public importance of this matter,'' plaintiff attorney Jeff Mishkin said.

ACC presidents spoke by teleconference Wednesday night, and for the second straight evening, delayed a vote on expansion. ACC commissioner John Swofford said the lack of a vote didn't indicate the plan was falling apart. He said the next conference call will take place no sooner than next week.

The motion filed Thursday called for Miami president Donna Shalala, athletic director Paul Dee, Swofford and 11 others to give depositions as soon as next month.

''This state will enable us to escalate the pace and pressure of this litigation. We need to play hardball,'' said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. ''We will seek documents and sworn depositions from major witnesses on the other side to substantiate what we believe were false statements and misleading promises made.''

ACC spokesman Brian Morrison declined comment. Charles C. Kline, an attorney for Miami, said he had not been made aware of Thursday's filings. Dee was traveling and unavailable for comment.

In other developments, the faculty at Duke issued a statement calling for a further delay on the expansion vote. The faculty expressed concerns that educational matters weren't being considered in the expansion.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush criticized the lawsuit.

''I think a university should be able to associate with any set of universities they want,'' he said.

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