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In Moving To ACC, Hurricanes Choose Stability Over Prosperity

Posted July 2, 2003

— Money played a large role in Miami's decision to leave the Big East and join the Atlantic Coast Conference -- but not in the way that might have been expected.

Miami officials relied less on the amounts of the offers from the two conferences and more on the ways the leagues distribute profits to all sports.

If guaranteed money over the next five years was the most important factor, then university President Donna Shalala and Athletic Director Paul Dee would have kept the Hurricanes in the Big East.

"Frankly, the Big East made us a better financial offer," Shalala said after the announcement Monday. "It was a sense of the future. They're fundamentally different in the way in which they distribute money."

So, Miami went to the ACC largely because that conference pays all its members the same amount. In the Big East, teams received some base money, then more in a sliding bonus system that rewarded national championships and other achievements.

"More importantly, if there is a revenue-sharing situation, you can budget accordingly," Miami athletic spokesman Mark Pray said Tuesday, "because you pretty much know what you're going to get. It is not predicated solely by what you get in football, and that really helps our Olympic sports."

In the 2001-02 academic year, ACC members received $9.7 million each, the highest disbursement in that conference's history. Miami earned a reported $9.3 million that year, but even with a substantial bonus for appearing in a Bowl Championship Series game and winning the national title, the Hurricanes made less than every other ACC school.

Miami made $4 million by appearing in the 2001 season's BCS title game at the Rose Bowl; they would have made $1.7 million less otherwise.

Much of the ACC money comes from TV deals.

The schools will split $69 million for the three seasons left on the conference's football TV contracts with ABC, ESPN and Jefferson-Pilot Sports. By adding Miami and Virginia Tech, the ACC figures to negotiate a much better deal next time around.

"In the Big East, which has worked for us up until now, the more successful you were, the more money you got," Shalala said. "If you look at the ACC, it's an even distribution. Everyone gets the same thing. In addition to that, the ACC could better accommodate all of our sports."

Specifically, baseball. Miami remained independent in baseball when it joined the Big East 12 years ago, a move that kept the Hurricanes from committing to at least six road trips to the Northeast every spring.

Miami was, and will remain for one more year, a Big East member in all other sports. But travel costs for track, cross country, golf, soccer, tennis, volleyball, rowing and swimming and diving teams will be much lower when the Hurricanes enter a regionalized conference.

An average of 1,284 miles separates Miami from the other campuses of full Big East members. Only 830 miles, on average, spans between Coral Gables and the schools that will be the Hurricanes' ACC foes.

Virginia Tech, 900 miles from Coral Gables, was the Hurricanes' closest rival in Big East competition. But the Hokies will become Miami's third-longest travel distance in ACC play.

"There's a lot more broader issues than athletics," said Richard Ensor, commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. "Presidents think about what schools they want to be associated with. An association with ACC schools makes a lot more sense with Virginia Tech and Miami in terms of geography."

Shalala also said Miami's academic interests would be better served by a switch to the ACC, which is trying to strengthen its academic alliances. She did not say academic reputations were better at ACC schools than at Big East institutions, but likened the setup in the ACC as comparable to what other academic conferences have in place.

From 1987 to 1993, Shalala was the chancellor at Wisconsin, a Big Ten school that has the sort of academic cooperative in place like the one the ACC aspires to have. Schools in the Big Ten often apply for grants together, share library resources, have student exchanges and visiting professorships from other member institutions.

The "broader" academic goals in the ACC was another attractive tenet, Shalala said.

"The ACC has built a remarkable conference based on equal treatment and high academic and athletic expectations," Shalala said. "We have both. This is a good move for this university."

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