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Virginia Tech key to solid Big East

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Watching the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences slugging it out is a little like watching sudden-death overtime at a sporting event.

The highs and lows are incredible.

Unfortunately for Pitt, the outcome is much more significant than any one game.

I felt pretty good yesterday about Pitt's future as a legitimate presence in major college football when ACC officials again passed on a chance to extend official invitations to join their little fraternity to Big East members Miami, Boston College and Syracuse. The ACC clearly didn't have the necessary votes from its membership to expand. The legal action brought by the other Big East football schools -- Pitt, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Connecticut -- to stop the expansion might be a nuisance lawsuit, as many legal experts believe. But it appeared to be a nuisance that at least three ACC schools -- Duke, North Carolina and Virginia -- didn't want to face.

Then late last night, The Associated Press reported that the ACC has decided to also offer an invitation to Virginia Tech in attempt to get Virginia's expansion vote. Virginia has been opposed to the expansion because it's been under tremendous in-state pressure from every politician from the governor on down not to leave Virginia Tech behind in the ruins that would be the Big East.

So the question now is this:

Will Virginia Tech remain loyal to its Big East lawsuit partners or will it go running off to the ACC?

I'm not sure I want to know the answer.

I'm trying hard to believe that the best thing for the Big East and for Pitt also is the right thing for Virginia Tech.

There's no way the Big East is going to stay intact. Miami is gone. There's just too much animosity between its president, Donna Shalala, and Big East officials. Shalala's hollow promises to keep Miami in the Big East for the long term are at the heart of the lawsuit. That's why it seems certain Miami will be in the ACC by the 2004 season. The ACC will take it even if it ends up having to expand by only one team.

But that no longer means the Big East has to crumble and turn into a second-rate league, some sort of ugly mutation with Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference.

That's assuming Virginia Tech stays loyal, of course.

Syracuse and Boston College also would stay. That might make for some uncomfortable moments at Big East meetings because Boston College also is named in the lawsuit because of its alleged duplicity. But it would enable the conference to keep its automatic BCS bid and the $13 million pay out that goes with it, which is all the legal action really wants to accomplish.

I have a hard time believing any Eastern league without Miami -- or Penn State, for that matter -- can be a top league and deserving of a BCS bid, but I seem to be in the minority there. Word is the Big East would keep the bid, drop its suit and add a school to replace Miami. Louisville, probably.

Pitt couldn't ask for anything better.

Neither could Virginia Tech, if you think about it.

Forget about what the Louisville-for-Miami swap would do for Big East basketball. Can you imagine Rick Pitino bringing Louisville into the Petersen Events Center? How about appearances by Marquette and Xavier? Speculation has the Big East turning into an aggressor in the conference shuffle game and trying to add those schools as basketball members.

Think about what the revamped Big East would do for Virginia Tech and Pitt football. Miami, which figures to win the Big East eight out of every 10 years, would be gone. It would be off to the ACC, battling every year with Florida State to go to a BCS bowl. Virginia Tech and Pitt would be left as the Big East's power teams. Is it really so hard to picture Virginia Tech and Pitt each winning, say, four conference titles -- and four BCS bids -- in a 10-year period?

What isn't there to like about that?

Pitt will tell you absolutely nothing.

All we can do now is hope Virginia Tech comes to the same conclusion.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.

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