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ACC deliberations at crossroads

From and wire reports

[ Originally posted 06.22.03. ]

Weeks ago, when the Atlantic Coast Conference confidently announced it planned to expand by three schools, it formally initiated what was portrayed as a well-thought-out process.

Along the way, however, the twists and turns league officials have taken in trying to execute that plan have steered them onto paths as winding as the countless country lanes that intersect with Tobacco Road.

After a Saturday morning teleconference between the presidents of the ACC's schools, an announcement indicated the end of the journey was in sight but left open the possibility that the road map that's currently being followed isn't necessarily the one that was in the glove compartment at the beginning of the trip.

According to a statement issued by the conference office, the executives "continued conversations ... and moved closer to the completion of the expansion process."

Signaling an intention to wrap up the deliberations one way or the other by the end of June, the statement was specific in alluding to a timeframe but vague about what might be at the end of what has turned out to be a bizarre expedition.

"Consideration and clarification of a number of institutional questions were the focus of the meeting," noted the release. "The meeting was positive and the Council made progress that will enable it to reach its goal of concluding this process by the end of this month."

Bottom line: A venture that began with what was put forward as the simple process of inspecting, inviting and welcoming Big East stalwarts Miami, Boston College and Syracuse into the ACC has become very complicated — and could even be derailed.

Dissension from within the ranks, legal threats and ethics bashing from Big East interests and political powers, and a general uproar from fans and media commentators opposed to what they view as a naked maneuver for power and money in the college sports world of the future have transformed the ACC's great adventure into a perilous mission.

Based on the "end of this month" deadline implied in the ACC's Saturday statement, it's clearly a mission the league's governing council wants to bring to a close.

Virginia Tech, a litigant in the lawsuit aimed at the ACC and the beneficiary of Commonwealth political pressure on ACC member Virginia to support the Hokies, is now solidly in the mix as a possible candidate to join the conference, according to ESPN.

Among the big questions now, according to the report, are whether Tech might replace Boston College or Syracuse in accompanying 800-lb football gorilla Miami into the ACC. Other possibilities, noted the ubiquitous sports web site, are that the conference may offer membership to all four of the schools or scale back its raid to try to snatch only Miami, it's primary target all along.

In effect, what looked like a virtually certain first move only a month to knock over the initial domino — starting a chain reaction that would produce a helter-skelter, nationwide realignment of major college sports conferences — has instead become a high-stakes game of 13-card stud in which none of the parties has a pat hand.

Since the lawsuit against the ACC was filed, Duke and North Carolina — the league's primary DNA contributors — have stiffened their reluctance to endorse the original expansion plan, putting Virginia president John T. Casteen, III, in position to either cast the vote that would doom the venture or cast a vote that damages in-state sister institution Virginia Tech.

The Associated Press reported that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, one of the lead attorneys in the Big East's lawsuit, said the ACC's statement indicates that the conference "is really in disarray right now and stymied because it simply can't make the numbers work."

Blumenthal said the five plaintiffs in the lawsuit will participate in a teleconference of their own on Sunday. Virginia Tech continues to be a staunch ally in the suit, he said, and the league will be ready to respond if that should change.

The Big East schools leaving for the ACC must each pay a $1 million exit fee — the penalty doubles after June 30. On the other hand, if none of them leaves, the penalty would be zero but the hard feelings would be incalculable.

Copyright 2003 Staff member Danny Whitford and The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

02/23/2007 10:36:41 AM

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