Miami, Virginia Tech get ACC invitations

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2003

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) When the ACC's invitations finally went out, one guest was expected, another was a surprise and two got snubbed.

The Atlantic Coast Conference ended its six-week expansion saga Wednesday by inviting only Miami and Virginia Tech to leave the Big East and join its league.

Boston College and Syracuse, which also were candidates for expansion, were left behind.

Miami and Virginia Tech are the Big East's two dominant football schools, and the move to go to 11 schools wasn't one of the expected scenarios after the ACC voted May 13 to expand.

''These two institutions represent and share the values for which the ACC has long been known,'' said Clemson President James F. Barker, head of the league's Council of Presidents. ''We feel they will be a great addition to our family.''

Barker said the invitation to Virginia Tech, a dark horse candidate that was added last week at the insistence of Virginia, was ''subject to final completion of the conference bylaw requirements'' a site visit that was under way Wednesday in Blacksburg, Va.

Virginia Tech's governing board, meeting earlier Wednesday, unanimously authorized president Charles Steger to negotiate a deal with the ACC. Voting at a hastily called meeting in Roanoke, Va., the Board of Visitors gave Steger the authority to make the decision himself, and he said he was ''inclined to accept'' the offer.

Miami President Donna Shalala said school officials were disappointed that Boston College and Syracuse weren't included.

''Since this is a new proposal, we will evaluate it before making a decision,'' she said. Athletic director Paul Dee added it may take a few days for Miami to decide.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said he didn't expect any problems with the invitation to either school, ''but that's in their hands.''

Boston College said the Big East was discussing future conference configurations among all its members. Its statement noted that Miami and Virginia Tech are included in those discussions, which is likely to mean that that Big East is making the would-be defectors a counterproposal to keep them from bolting.

The statement said the schools will address ''those issues that have caused several Big East institutions to consider conference withdrawal.''

Syracuse spokesman Kevin Morrow said the school was ''disappointed that a decision like this was made.''

Morrow said Syracuse would work with the Big East to ''help it become an even stronger conference.''

''We have faced challenges before, and we've always been up to the task. We will be again,'' Morrow said.

Swofford refused to give the expansion vote breakdown, although he said there weren't enough votes for a plan to add only Miami.

''I think the Big East will recover,'' Swofford said. ''It isn't an acquisition, it isn't a takeover because the only way we can grow is if schools want to come join us by choice. I think it's been very misrepresented in some quarters.''

The ACC presidents voted to expand on May 13, and conference officials visited Miami, Boston College and Syracuse to assess their facilities. Virginia Tech came into the picture last week, as part of a compromise suggested by Virginia president John T. Casteen III.

Virginia Tech was one of five Big East football schools that filed a lawsuit June 6 to try to stop BC, Miami and Syracuse from leaving the conference. Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia were the other parties to the suit.

Connecticut president Philip Austin said Virginia Tech did not participate Wednesday in a conference call among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Austin would not say what was discussed on the call.

''Until we get a better sense, an accurate sense, we have no comment,'' he said. ''My objective since day one has been to keep the Big East together as we know it.''

A Connecticut judge is scheduled to hear preliminary arguments Thursday in the suit.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said a preliminary hearing will proceed as scheduled Thursday to determine venue and scheduling.

However, Virginia Tech's invitation to the ACC quickly changed the legal lineup.

''Obviously, the situation is very fluid in alignments and alliances of different schools,'' Blumenthal said. ''And the question of which institutions will ultimately side with which conferences remains unsettled.''

Blumenthal would not comment on Virginia Tech's departure from the lawsuit.

In Tallahassee, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said Tuesday he was prepared to intervene on behalf of Miami in the suit. Crist said Miami has the right to choose the conference it wants to play in.

''This is a fundamental dispute among athletic conferences and universities,'' said Crist, who was asked by Miami to intercede. ''Universities have the right to join any conference that invites them. The law does not compel Miami, or any institution, to rebuff a legitimate overture, as long as existing contractual obligations are satisfied.''

If the ACC expands to 11 members, it would be one short of the number necessary to hold a football conference championship game.

The ACC could seek a waiver of the requirement, but Steve Mallonee, the NCAA's Division I associate chief of staff, said Wednesday he was unaware of any such request.

Mallonee said no conference has asked for a waiver since the rule was added in 1987.

''The conference has to give reasons why the administrative rules committee should set aside the rule,'' Mallonee said. ''Legislation is generally the better route. They have until July 15 to submit a legislative change.''

Tuesday's conference call was the fifth time in two weeks that the presidents met via phone as they tried to finalize possible expansion. Such an expansion could lead to a lucrative conference football title game and television contract.

Any school leaving the Big East will have to pay a $1 million penalty, and that amount doubles if the school leaves after June 30.

Contributing to this story were Hank Kurz Jr. in Richmond, Chris Kahn in Roanoke, Tim Reynolds in Miami, John Kekis in Syracuse, Jimmy Golen in Boston and Donna Tommelleo in Hartford.

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