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U. of Pittsburgh
Miami wavers on ACC's offer; Va. Tech ready to jilt Big East

Thursday, June 26, 2003

By Paul Zeise, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Atlantic Coast Conference officially extended invitations to Big East members Virginia Tech and Miami yesterday, leaving Boston College and Syracuse out of its expansion plans.

Big East's ruin falls on Va. Tech

Virginia Tech's governing board unanimously authorized President Charles Steger to negotiate with the ACC, but Miami President Donna Shalala said she was "disappointed" with the conference's plans and that the school would need a few days to evaluate the proposal.

Steger issued a statement indicating that Virginia Tech is prepared to "accept an invitation from the Atlantic Coast Conference." ACC officials visited Virginia Tech's campus yesterday because league bylaws require a site visit before a school can receive an invitation. Virginia Tech has a news conference scheduled for 2 p.m. today.

Miami was upset that Boston College and Syracuse did not receive invitations to join the league. The school wanted them included in the expansion plans because it has a large alumni base in the Northeast corridor, and Shalala and Syracuse chancellor Buzz Shaw are good friends.

The Hurricanes, along with ACC members Georgia Tech and Florida State, the two strongest expansion proponents within the conference, were hoping to create a 12-team league that would enable it to have a lucrative football conference championship game. According to NCAA rules, a conference must have at least 12 teams in order to hold such a game and the current proposal leaves the ACC with only 11.

That's why it is widely thought, particularly among remaining Big East members, that the ACC will look to expand to 12 in the near future.

The addition of Syracuse and Boston College also would have expanded the conference's boundaries into two of the biggest television markets in the country. The ACC was hoping to use the new markets as leverage when it negotiates a new TV deal. Its current contract with ABC expires in 2005.

Meanwhile, a Connecticut judge will hear preliminary arguments in the Big East's lawsuit against the ACC today. The suit claims that the ACC's "raid" of the Big East will cause irreparable harm to the remaining members of the football conference and is seeking damages of "hundreds of millions of dollars" as well as "injunctive relief."

Virginia Tech originally was one of five schools who were the plaintiff's in the case while Boston College, Miami and ACC were named defendants. Because of the developments yesterday, the Big East presidents' dismissed Boston College as a defendant and Virginia Tech has withdrawn from the case.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is heading the lawsuit on behalf of the Big East, issued a statement which reaffirmed his goal of protecting the conference's interests, but added, "the questions of which institutions will ultimately side with which conference remain unsettled."

The suit was filed June 6 when it became clear the ACC had zeroed in on Boston College, Syracuse and Miami as its primary targets for expansion. Along with the suit came intense political pressure on the University of Virginia by influential people within the state to veto any plan that did not include Virginia Tech.

Those developments were a big reason ACC Commissioner John Swofford could not get the necessary seven votes to pass the original plan. That's why Virginia Tech emerged as a compromise candidate, even though it was one of the plaintiff's in the lawsuit to stop the ACC's expansion.

The addition of Virginia Tech swayed Virginia to vote for the plan. Virginia President John Casteen, who, along with the presidents of Duke and North Carolina, had previously voted against expansion, changed his vote to a yes, and the proposal passed, 7-2, with Duke and North Carolina casting "no" votes.

Steger thanked Casteen, Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore for working "tirelessly on [Virginia Tech's] behalf."

While Virginia Tech officials were happy, the mood was much different at Boston College and Syracuse, as both schools expressed disappointment at being snubbed. Both, however, pledged support for the Big East.

"Clearly, there are issues that have come into play that outreach the quality and value of our institution and its athletic program," said Syracuse spokesman Kevin Morrow in a statement. "Syracuse University has been a proud member of the Big East. We will work with our colleagues to help it become an even stronger conference."

Boston College issued a statement that suggested the Big East might make a counterproposal to Miami and Virginia Tech in a last-ditch attempt to convince them to stay in the conference.

"Today, representatives from the Big East institutions are engaged in discussions with all conference members, including Miami and Virginia Tech, regarding future conference configuration. Boston College is now focused on these discussions, including addressing those issues that have caused several Big East institutions to consider conference withdrawal."

A major issue is the growing divide between Big East members who play Division I-A football and basketball and members who play only I-A basketball -- Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova and St. John's.

Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, along with the presidents of Rutgers, Connecticut and West Virginia, issued a statement that said they were pleased that Boston College and Syracuse will remain in the Big East and also reached out to Miami and Virginia Tech.

"We hope that after full consideration Miami and Virginia Tech will also remain part of the Big East. We do not know what decisions Miami and Virginia Tech will ultimately make. We are encouraged that Miami said today that it needs to fully reflect on the offer before it makes a final decision."

If the two schools accept the invitation by Monday, they will have to pay the Big East a $1 million withdrawal fee. If they wait longer, the fee doubles., It could be more as conference members might vote to amend league bylaws after July 1.

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.

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