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Latest Twist In Expansion Saga Offers New Intrigue, Fast Action

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The latest twist in the six-week saga of Atlantic Coast Conference expansion offered surprising and quick developments.

Just a few weeks ago,

Virginia Tech was one of five teams to file a lawsuit against the ACC for conspiring to destroy the Big East.

But now, it appears Virginia Tech will be invited to join the league along with Miami.

At a hastily called meeting Wednesday in Roanoke, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors unanimously authorized president Charles Steger to negotiate a deal with the ACC.

The board gave Steger the authority to talk to ACC leaders about joining their league and to make the decision himself on whether to make the move.

Steger said afterward that the ACC still had not formallyinvited Virginia Tech to join. But he added that if an offer came, "wewould be inclined to accept it."

Meanwhile, ACC spokesman Brian Morrison said a four- or five-person delegation from the league was sent to Blacksburg, Va., Wednesday for a site visit, as required by ACC bylaws. Commissioner John Swofford was not part of the delegation.

University of Connecticut President Philip Austin said Virginia Tech did not participate in a Wednesday conference call among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He said he did not know why.

Austin would not say what was discussed on the call.

"Until we get a better sense, an accurate sense, we have no comment," he said. "My objective since day one has been to keep the Big East together as we know it."

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. "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."

Miami has been eager to join the ACC if at least one other team came with it. Speculation was that Syracuse and Boston College would be part of a package deal involving the Hurricanes because of the media markets they offered the league and Miami.

There also was reportedly a sense among the ACC presidents that Miami might not join the league by itself -- another reason to include BC and Syracuse. Also, the ACC can not have a league championship football game if it doesn't have 12 teams.

Of the many scenarios for ACC expansion, no one saw this coming: BC and Syracuse are considered out of the mix, and

the ACC will pursue only Virginia Tech and Miami.

That would create an 11-school conference -- one team short of the 12 needed for a football championship game and the high-dollar payoff that goes with it.

The decision appears to have been reached during a conference call that lasted more than three hours Tuesday night.

Virginia Tech Board Of Visitors member John R. Lawson II said he was stunned to hear how the ACC's fifth expansion teleconference turned out.

"I knew that there were possibly five different combinations, and this wasn't one of them," Lawson said in a phone interview. "I was pleasantly surprised."

Conference officials have been keeping quiet about the details.

Swofford released a brief statement Wednesday morning.

"We are very close to reaching a definitive conclusion to this process," he said. "We expect to have an announcement in the near future."

Virginia Tech was suggested for inclusion in the ACC by Virginia president John T. Casteen III in May. But the Hokies were rejected, and the league decided instead to invite the other three Big East football schools to join.

That prompted Virginia Tech to join the suit against the ACC, Miami and Boston College. The suit also seeks millions of dollars in damages for its impact on the Big East's viability.

Last week, when it became apparent the ACC would not have enough votes to expand with the original three schools, Casteen again suggested restoring Virginia Tech to the mix.

Lawson said he couldn't speak for the entire Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and wanted to reserve ultimate judgment on the possible conference switch. But atfirst blush, he said, "I think it's cool.

"We are a perfect fit for the ACC, and we have been for a long time," Lawson said, noting the school's geographic proximity to most ACC schools and high academic standards. "We can help the ACC as much as it can help us. That's the bottom line."

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