ACC move to expand could bring widespread changes

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Atlantic Coast Conference presidents voted to expand Tuesday, setting the stage to invite Miami and two other schools to join their nine-team league, two sources familiar with the discussions told The Associated Press.

Miami will get an invitation soon. If the Hurricanes and two other teams from the Big East accept, it could drastically alter the landscape of college sports. Any expansion plan would likely go into effect in 2004.

ACC commissioner John Swofford, meeting with coaches and athletic directors in Amelia Island this week, was hesitant to call expansion of the 50-year-old league a done deal. He knows Miami and two other schools -- Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia Tech are candidates -- still must accept.

The sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said league presidents voted 7-2 during a conference call to approve expansion. Any expansion needed seven votes for approval.

"The conference call among the league's chancellors and presidents this morning was another step toward completion of an ongoing process that is not yet finalized," Swofford said. "It is not appropriate at this time for me to share the particulars of this morning's conference call out of respect to our own schools and to potential candidates. At this time, no final decisions have been reached."

Miami athletic director Paul Dee said Tuesday his school was interested, but would have to look at the specifics.

"Even if they called us and said, 'OK, you're it,' we still have all this discussion to do with them to assure ourselves," he said. "All they can really do is say, 'Let's talk."'

By adding three teams, the ACC would become a 12-team superconference, a la the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12. It's a status that all but assures the conference's long-term future, mainly because it would give the ACC a definite role in the next football Bowl Championship Series, due to be revamped in 2006.

Becoming a 12-team conference would allow the ACC to split into divisions and play a football title game -- an event that brings in about $12 million each year for the SEC. It could also make the ACC's next TV deal more lucrative, and could give the conference a chance at placing a second team in the BCS and earning the $13 million payoff that goes with the bid. The ACC has never had two teams in the BCS.

Should this expansion go through, the Big East essentially would lose its best football teams and its future as a football conference would be in limbo.

In most senses, it's a move done to make the country's most storied basketball conference a bigger power in football -- something coaches of both sports recognized as they met with Swofford and athletic directors this week.

"We're open-minded enough that we want to know about the process," North Carolina State basketball coach Herb Sendek said. "That doesn't mean certain coaches don't have their minds made up. But to represent this as football coaches on one side and basketball coaches on the other isn't necessarily the case."

Coming into the week, traditional basketball powerhouses Duke and North Carolina were thought to be against the move. Neither source would say how the votes were cast.

The ACC, which last expanded in 1991 when it added Florida State, now waits for Miami and the rest to make their decisions.

"We'll be deliberate," Dee said. "There's nothing that's rushing the decision by anybody. We'll do it in the right way and the right time."

Among Dee's concerns will be the divisional alignment; Miami would like to be in a division with Florida State to guarantee that longstanding annual football rivalry is kept alive. This is important to the Hurricanes because it would prevent them from having to play Florida State again in the conference title game. Also, if the teams play early enough in the season, the loser could still climb into the championship race.

Meanwhile, basketball powers -- especially Duke and North Carolina -- will be wary of any alignment that takes away their home-and-home series with natural rivals like Maryland and North Carolina State. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, earlier a critic of expansion, said he felt basketball concerns were being given fair consideration.

Speaking on Monday, Swofford said all that could be negotiated at a later time.

"All we need to know is that that's all workable, if you understand what I'm saying," Swofford said.

Dee said in order for Miami to move by 2004 without a major financial penalty, a decision would have to be reached by June 30.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese was critical of the ACC's plan in an interview last month.

Big East coaches and athletic directors meet this weekend in Ponte Vedra Beach in what should be an unusually interesting few days.

"You would have to imagine it would be The topic," Dee said of expansion.


AP sports writers Mark Long in Miami and Dave Droschak in Raleigh, N.C., and newsman Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee also contributed to this report.

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