Sunday, May 11, 2003
For some in ACC, bigger isn't better
But league's status could be at stake
By Bill Vilona
Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal
Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference nearly 12 years ago, Florida State has pushed for rival Miami to be included as well.
The Seminoles are closer than ever to getting their wish.
The ACC is poised for an eventual vote on making its most radical change since the formation of the league in 1953. Miami, Syracuse and Boston College - all current members of the Big East Conference - soon could help form a 12-team conference that would stretch the East Coast and affect half of the nation's largest television markets.
"I have always been a proponent of expansion," said Florida State athletic director Dave Hart, who knows Miami's acceptance would trigger the other two desired teams to join the ACC.
"This is something I firmly believe we need to do."
Hart, who has lobbied for this since becoming FSU's athletic director in 1995, believes expansion is a proactive necessity to ensure the ACC's long-term health.
If the move fails - seven of the current nine schools have to vote in favor of it - the ACC could risk its future. There is growing sentiment among the NCAA's major conferences to create a football playoff system when the current bowl agreement expires in 2006.
Under that scenario, the current football super-conferences like the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 would have the strongest voice and biggest clout in negotiations.
The ACC (nine teams) and Big East (eight teams) are the smallest among the current Bowl Championship Series members.
"This is a race between us and the Big East (for expansion)," one ACC school official said.
Florida football focus
If the ACC cannot agree to expansion, the Big East is expected to attempt to create its own 12-team conference to have a football championship game. That would give it the edge in a restructured super-conference setup among NCAA Division I-A leagues.
Florida State leads a coalition of the willing for expansion. Georgia Tech and Clemson are its main allies.
Virginia and Maryland also have given approval. In recent weeks, Wake Forest school president Thomas Hearn privately has voiced his support.
That leaves the powerful Tobacco Road trio, which tends to act in concert despite on-field rivalries.
Duke and North Carolina do not want to expand. But ACC expansion proponents are making headway with North Carolina State chancellor Marye Ann Fox, who could cast the deciding vote.
N.C. State football coach Chuck Amato, a 14-year assistant head coach at FSU, wants expansion and believes it would further boost the Wolfpack's current rise in football stature. Basketball coach Herb Sendek has accepted the merits of the proposal.
ACC commissioner John Swofford, once a fence-sitter on expansion, is pushing in favor of it. He will not issue formal invitations to Miami, or anyone else, unless he knows there are seven ACC presidents voting yes.
During the past 12 years, adding Miami has been a constant issue. The league lacked one vote three years ago to invite the Hurricanes and create a 10-team league.
"It is no longer a back-burner issue, but it is not imminent," said Hart, stressing a formal vote will not occur this week.
Why does Florida State have such strong sentiment for Miami? The Seminoles know what the Hurricanes would bring to the ACC. An immediate conference rival, something Florida State lacks. An instant upgrade in perception of ACC football. A mega-metropolitan area in a powerful television market, which would give the ACC the media exposure it lacks throughout Florida. Miami-Fort Lauderdale is the nation's No. 16 television market.
Having two of Florida's three major schools in the same conference would help all sports.
Florida State would push for an ACC football championship game to be staged in either Jacksonville or Orlando. A bidding process would award the best deal. The other possible location is Charlotte, N.C., but because Miami and FSU have the biggest names in football, there is belief the game would be set in Florida with periodical movement to other venues.
Swofford was the athletic director at North Carolina when the school supported Florida State joining. He has been dismayed at his alma mater's stance in the current expansion proposal.
It has reinforced belief among ACC members that several schools are still living in the 1950s, unable to see the shifting future landscape of college athletics.
"The thing that made our league is basketball," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a vocal opponent of expansion.
"Football is great, too. But the two-division concept in basketball (if the ACC has 12 teams) for our league will really be bad."
But expansion proponents say the exact opposite has occurred in other conferences. The SEC and Big 12 have enhanced their basketball image and success with two divisions.
A team finishing third in one division, for example, but only a game removed from first place, is more likely to receive an at-large bid than one tied for sixth in a nine-team conference.
In 1999 and 2000, the ACC placed only three teams in the NCAA Tournament. The past two years, four teams made the field.
Said one ACC official: "We're no longer the premier basketball conference. We just think we are."
The ACC of the future?
The Pensacola News Journal takes a look at how the ACC could look with two divisions. One is with Miami and Florida State in the same division, another with the two teams in different divisions.
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