Big East scrambles to keep Miami in fold

Posted: Friday, June 27, 2003

CORAL GABLES, Fla. Boston College and Syracuse were ready to bolt the Big East before they were spurned by the Atlantic Coast Conference. Now, the two schools are leading the effort to keep Miami from going to the ACC.

''I hope they will feel that remaining in the Big East Conference is in their best interest,'' Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo said Thursday after Miami put off a decision on whether to switch conferences until next week.

The Big East has made Miami a counteroffer to try to keep the school from leaving the league. Miami president Donna Shalala wouldn't discuss the specifics, but she acknowledged they were part of the reason why the university's trustees didn't vote Thursday on an invitation to join the ACC.

''The Big East has informally sent a proposal, or at least a list of proposals, to us and we feel a responsibility to review them,'' said Shalala, adding she was not ruling out any possibility.

She said a final decision will be announced Monday the day Miami must inform Big East officials if they decide to join the ACC or risk doubling a penalty fee for leaving to $2 million.

''These are significant decisions that have long-term implications and we fully appreciate and respect Miami's need to thoroughly evaluate their decision,'' ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. ''We have had conversations with Miami today and will continue to be available to have any further discussions that may be necessary before making their final decision.''

The 19-member executive committee of Miami's board of trustees met for more than an hour on Thursday to consider the ACC's invitation before putting off a decision.

''That's exciting that they have not decided anything yet,'' DeFilippo said.

The Rev. William Leahy, Boston College's president, spoke with Shalala on Wednesday night. ''I think she is genuinely torn about what to do,'' he said.

Syracuse spokesman Kevin Morrow said his school and Boston College spearheaded the Big East's counterproposals.

''We very much want Miami to stay,'' Morrow said. ''The Big East institutions are making a case to Miami for the Hurricanes to stay in the conference and Syracuse and Boston College are leading this conversation.''

Syracuse chancellor Kenneth Shaw and Leahy are expected to have talks with Shalala through the weekend. Boston College and Syracuse were wooed and then spurned by the ACC.

Earlier in the expansion process, the Big East had guaranteed Miami $45 million over five years to remain in their conference. The offer remains the same despite the ACC going with a two-school expansion instead of three.

For the past six weeks, ACC presidents have been wrangling over several scenarios to muster enough votes for an expansion that would add Miami and its powerhouse football program to the conference.

''We think Miami would be an excellent fit for the Atlantic Coast Conference and it is certainly our hope that they will be joining us,'' Swofford said.

Miami could join the ACC as early as the 2004-05 academic year if it accepts.

Along with Virginia Tech, Miami was invited this week to create an 11-member ACC. The Virginia Tech invitation was surprising because Miami, Boston College and Syracuse were the schools the ACC had been pursuing to form a 12-team league that would allow it to hold a conference championship game in football.

''I am deeply disappointed that Boston College and Syracuse were not invited by the ACC,'' said Shalala, who said she would not ask the ACC to reconsider inviting those schools.

Virginia Tech officials have indicated they will accept the ACC's invitation, meaning the Big East will likely have just one more season with both of its top football draws as members. Miami won the 2001 national title and played in the championship game again after the 2002 season, and Virginia Tech played for the 1999 national title.

In Connecticut, where a lawsuit filed by four schools accuses the ACC of conspiring to wreck the Big East, Boston College was dropped as a defendant and Virginia Tech left the list of plaintiffs.

Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza on Thursday rejected a defense attempt to move the lawsuit out of Tolland County, which is home to UConn.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the shifting legal lineup might play to the advantage of the plaintiffs UConn, Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh because BC could ''shed light on some of the secret, back-room discussions in this continuing conspiracy.''

Leahy said BC won't be joining the suit. ''I think it's a waste of time and money,'' he said.

''I'm not surprised we were sued,'' Shalala said. ''Who sued us surprised me.''

Originally, Miami and Boston College were the defendants in the case, and Virginia Tech was among the plaintiffs.

Syracuse was never a defendant because Big East attorneys contended that only Boston College and Miami were engaged in secret discussions to ruin their conference.

The ACC was projecting future revenues based on the league becoming a 12-team conference, one that could gross $12 million or more with a football title game.

Shalala said Miami still had to evaluate what a two-team addition to the ACC would mean financially for Miami. With only 11 teams, the ACC could not add the lucrative title game unless granted a waiver by the NCAA.

''We had done numbers on Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami, we had done numbers on Miami alone, but we had not anticipated that Virginia Tech and Miami would be the only two invitees,'' Shalala said.

Miami joined the Big East in October 1990 after previously playing as an independent. The Big East football conference was formed five months later.

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