Wednesday, June 25, 2003

ACC to pursue Miami, Virginia Tech only

By David Droschak
The Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. - In the most surprising move of the Atlantic Coast Conference's six-week expansion saga, the league has decided to pursue only Miami and Virginia Tech, a high-ranking conference source told The Associated Press.

The move to go to 11 schools wasn't one of the many scenarios presented since the ACC's vote to expand on May 13.

After a 2 1/2-hour conference call Tuesday night, ACC commissioner John Swofford refused to comment on whether Miami and Virginia Tech - the Big East's two dominant football schools - had been offered invitations to join.

"We're very close to bringing this to a conclusion. I would expect us to have an announcement in the next couple of days," Swofford said.

The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoting anonymous sources, reported on their Web sites that the ACC voted to extend invitations to Miami and Virginia Tech, and that Syracuse and Boston College - along with Miami the schools talked about since the start - were not included.

The league source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The AP on Tuesday night that the league presidents decided the only way expansion would work is if Miami and Virginia Tech joined what would become an 11-team conference. The source also said ACC presidents no longer expect Syracuse and Boston College to be part of the expansion process.

"We're very close to being at the end of this," Swofford told reporters outside ACC headquarters.

He said the ACC presidents do not have another teleconference scheduled.

"Each conference call has taken us a step further and this was the closest one to the end," he said.

Asked whether the reports on Miami and Virginia Tech were accurate, Swofford said he wouldn't comment on "reports and speculation until we're ready to make a definite announcement as to where we are."

Miami sports information director Mark Pray said the school would have no comment until the ACC announced its plans. Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said he had no knowledge of a proposal to put his school and Miami into the ACC.

The ACC presidents voted to expand on May 13, and conference officials visited Miami, Boston College and Syracuse to assess their facilities. Virginia Tech came into the picture last week, as part of a compromise suggested by Virginia president John T. Casteen III.

Virginia Tech was one of five Big East football schools that filed a lawsuit June 6 to try to stop BC, Miami and Syracuse from leaving the conference. Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and West Virginia were the other parties to the suit.

A Connecticut judge is scheduled to hear preliminary arguments Thursday in the suit.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the new expansion plan will not affect the lawsuit.

"Even if the deal is different, our determination is undiminished to hold accountable Miami and the ACC," Blumenthal said late Tuesday. "We will vigorously pursue our legal claims to protect the Big East and recover for the harm done. Our legal cause is alive and well."

In Tallahassee, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist said Tuesday he's prepared to intervene on behalf of Miami in the suit. Crist said Miami has the right to choose the conference it wants to play in.

"This is a fundamental dispute among athletic conferences and universities," said Crist, who was asked by Miami to intercede. "Universities have the right to join any conference that invites them. The law does not compel Miami, or any institution, to rebuff a legitimate overture, as long as existing contractual obligations are satisfied."

If the ACC expands to 11 members, it would be one short of the number necessary to hold a football conference championship game.

Tuesday's conference call was the fifth time in two weeks that the presidents met via phone as they tried to finalize possible expansion. Such an expansion could lead to a lucrative conference football title game and television contract.

Any school leaving the Big East will have to pay a $1 million penalty, and that amount doubles if the school leaves after June 30.

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