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Big East plans "up front" and "proper" expansion

By Danny Whitford

[ Originally posted 06.26.03. ]

As the Atlantic Coast Conference's improvised expansion train prepares to strain away from the station, Virginia Tech is about to hop aboard for a ride to an unknown destination.

Miami, the passenger the railroad targeted from the beginning as its most desirable patron, is still weighing its options, and the Big East members the Hurricanes are contemplating leaving behind are pondering the next steps in shoring up their future.

Meanwhile, ACC officials hinted at the inevitability that another school would have to be lured into the loop to round out the membership to 12 and improve the opportunities for the renovated confederation.

Hokies officials — apparently oblivious for the moment to the potential legal ramifications of betraying their sworn partners in a lawsuit against the ACC — can hardly wait to stamp the documents that would seal the deal.

According to the Miami Herald, Virginia Tech moved a step closer to jumping ship on Wednesday when its Board of Visitors authorized school president Charles Steger to negotiate membership in the ACC on "mutually agreeable" terms.

"As best I can tell, it's just signing the papers," John Rocovich, the rector of the Board of Visitors, told the paper, adding that he expected the Hokies to join the ACC in 2005-06.

Virginia Tech was one of five Big East football schools that filed a lawsuit June 6 to try to stop Boston College, Miami and Syracuse from leaving the conference.

Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia were the other parties to the suit, joined by some states attorneys general, which cited the ACC, Miami and Boston College as perpetrators.

That was then, this is now. So goes the thinking in Blacksburg.

VPI has reportedly removed itself as a plaintiff in the legal action against the source of what it hopes will be its future mother lode. In a counter-move, Boston College, after being escorted to the exit door by ACC officials, was dropped as a defendant by Big East schools and government officials still doggedly pursuing the lawsuit.

In yet another irony piled on top of the highly-publicized twists and turns that have characterized the improbable melodrama, the possibility exists that BC may now take the Hokies' place as a plaintiff in court against the conference that intensely courted the Eagles, then brushed them off.

Miami's Board of Trustees will meet today with Donna Shalala, the school's president, to discuss whether they will accept, reject or otherwise respond to the ACC's formal membership invitation.

A statement issued by Shalala on Wednesday implied a positive answer to the ACC was by no means a slam-dunk. Citing the unexpected exclusion of the two schools Miami had counted on being a part of an expanded ACC, she indicated the new set of circumstances would be considered.

"We are very appreciative of the invitation from the ACC to join their conference," she said in the statement. "We are disappointed they have decided not to extend invitations to Boston College and Syracuse. Since this is a new proposal, we will evaluate it before making a decision."

The Boston Globe reported that officials of the remaining Big East schools are looking to the future and plotting their best course of action.

In an apparent reference to media criticism, hard feelings and alleged secretiveness that enveloped the ACC's expansion maneuver, the Boston paper quoted a Big East official who declared the conference's next steps would be made in the open.

''If we do anything,'' said the unnamed athletic director, ''we're going to be up front with everything. We'll go through all the proper channels and see who is interested.''

The Big East must field at least eight teams in football to keep a contractual grip on its guaranteed spot in the lucrative Bowl Championship Series, which is not up for renewal until after the 2005 season. The ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and PAC-10 are also members of the BCS.

If Virginia Tech and Miami bolt for the ACC, the six Big East holdovers — Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Rutgers — will seek at least two new members, and possibly more, to shore up their ranks.

Louisville, East Carolina and South Florida of Conference USA and MAC member Central Florida have been mentioned as candidates to move to the the league.

The Cardinals and ECU have also been speculated on as possibilities for becoming the ACC's 12th member.

Ultimately, the Big East football schools may elect to expand by six and split into a pair of six-team divisions in order to accommodate an NCAA-approved conference championship game and leverage their clout for continued inclusion in the BCS after the cartel's current pact expires.

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

02/23/2007 10:36:44 AM

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