Sunday, May 18, 2003

Hurricanes in eye of Big East storm

Their retention focus of meetings

The Associated Press

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - Using a blend of guilt, flattery and financial inducements, leaders in the Big East Conference opened their annual meetings Saturday and began the push to keep Miami in the league.

Atlantic Coast Conference presidents voted Friday to begin discussions with Big East members Miami, Boston College and Syracuse about joining their nine-team league.

The Hurricanes are the key to the negotiations. The future of the Big East could be decided during five days of meetings.

"Institutions have to have integrity," Connecticut athletic director Lew Perkins said.

Perkins and Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver were among those who invoked the "institutional integrity" theme - hoping if money and conciliation won't work, maybe an old-fashioned guilt trip will.

But when asked if Miami would be going back on its word by bolting for the ACC, Hurricanes athletic director Paul Dee's response was simple: "No."

Big East bylaws state any school can leave the league with a year's notice. The penalty is $1 million.

What will it take to keep Miami in the Big East?

"The question isn't what it's going to take to keep people," Dee said. "The question is, what can we do as a league to create a future that has stability for everyone, and has stability in a variety of ways?"

Dee said he agrees with the notion that the 12-team superconference is the wave of the future. With 12 teams, leagues can negotiate better TV deals, play a lucrative football championship game and have a better chance of placing teams in the football and basketball postseason.

When Virginia Tech was still a potential expansion target, Weaver said the Hokies certainly didn't want to get left behind. Now that Tech has been passed over, Weaver has become the most outspoken proponent of the Big East. On Saturday, he said he thought there was still a 50-50 chance Miami would stay.

His football coach, Frank Beamer, is in danger of losing conference rivalries with Miami and Syracuse.

"When things are uncertain, you're shaky," Beamer said. "But I've got great confidence in the leadership of the Big East."

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