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ACC Presidents Take First Step Toward Expansion

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AMELIA ISLAND, FLA. — Atlantic Coast Conference presidents took the first step toward expansion Wednesday, voting to admit three additional schools to their nine-team league.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the next step will be to vote on which three schools to invite.

Although Swofford would not comment on candidates, Miami is the keystone to the expansion, and Syracuse is a likely possibility. Boston College and Virginia Tech also are in the mix.

"It's a two-way street, both on our end and with the schools that could be potential additions," Swofford said. "Until that process is truly completed, we can't say who the actual invitees might be."

If the Hurricanes, Syracuse and either Boston College or Virginia Tech accept, it would strip the Big East of its biggest football powers and drastically alter the landscape of college sports.

Swofford said the ACC would aim to begin play under the new format by 2005.

Meeting with coaches and athletic directors in Amelia Island this week, Swofford was hesitant to call expansion of the 50-year-old league a done deal. He knows Miami has a tough decision to make.

Swofford confirmed the ACC presidents voted 7-2 in favor of expansion. In the next step, each candidate would need seven votes to be admitted.

Football and money are considered the driving forces in the expansion effort.

"You talk about Miami, what a great football school, big market," former North Carolina coach Bill Dooley said. "Boston College, an outstanding market. Syracuse, you'd get the whole New York market."

Miami athletic director Paul Dee said his school was interested in joining the league but would have to look at the specifics.

"Even if they called us and said: 'OK, you're it,' we stillhave all this discussion to do with them to assure ourselves," hesaid. "All they can really do is say: 'Let's talk.'"

By adding three teams, the ACC would become a 12-teamsuperconference, like the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12.

It's a status that all but assures the conference's long-term future, mainly because it would give the ACC a definite role in the next football Bowl Championship Series, due to be revamped in 2006.

Becoming a 12-team conference would allow the ACC to split into divisions and play a football title game -an event that brings in about $12 million each year for the SEC.

It could also make the ACC's next TV deal more lucrative, and could give the conference a chance at placing a second team in the BCS and earning the $13 million payoff that goes with the bid. The ACC has never had two teams in the BCS.

"The league is a business," said Dr. LeRoy Walker. "If you're going to look at it from a business point of view, you have to say it's a great deal."

Big East coaches and athletic directors meet this weekend in Ponte Vedra Beach, but as soon as the news came out, some were already working the phones.

West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong said he lobbied several Big East members to stay in the conference.

"We, along with the other schools in the Big East, have made a commitment toward a strong conference," Pastilong said. "And we're counting on others to honor their commitments."

The ACC last expanded in 1991, when it added Florida State. Dee said a Miami move is no sure thing.

"We'll be deliberate," Dee said. "There's nothing that's rushing the decision by anybody. We'll do it in the right way and the right time."

Among Dee's concerns will be the divisional alignment; Miami would like to be in a division with Florida State to guarantee that long-standing annual football rivalry is kept alive. This isimportant to the Hurricanes because it would prevent them fromhaving to play Florida State again in the conference title game.

Also, if the teams play early enough in the season, the loser could still climb into the championship race.

Meanwhile, basketball powers -- especially Duke and North Carolina -- will be wary of any alignment that takes away their home-and-home series with natural rivals like Maryland and North Carolina State. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, earlier a critic of expansion, said he felt basketball concerns were being given fairconsideration.

"There's a sense of what happens to the basketball tournament and the ability of Duke and UNC to play each other," UNC chancellor James Moeser said. "There are ways to solve those problems. But the basketball issues are big."

Swofford said all that could be negotiated at a later time.

"All we need to know is that that's all workable, if you understand what I'm saying," Swofford said.

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