The ACC presidents voted in a conference call to begin formal discussions with Miami, Syracuse and Boston College. That left Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver hoping the Big East meetings that start Saturday would hold the league together.
The expansion, which could take affect for the 2004-05 academic year, would make it a 12-team superconference with a footballchampionship game. It also would leave the Hokies and 10 other teams, four of them with football, wondering what to do next.
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said Friday he was informed of the invitations in a phone call from John Swofford, hiscounterpart at the ACC.
"This comes as no surprise," Tranghese said. "We are looking forward to productive meetings this weekend. I am anxious to get started."
The timing of the ACC vote could be crucial to the process.
"It is our intention to give the Big East Conference a full and fair hearing regarding our continued membership," Miami said in astatement Friday.
The talk may be a little late.
"It's like a marriage proposal; you don't ask unless you know the answer," Miami athletic director Paul Dee said earlier in theweek of the ACC's overtures.
Miami and its top-notch football program was the main target of the ACC, and a move to 12 teams would create two divisions infootball and a lucrative playoff for a championship game like the SEC and Big 12 conferences.
It also would secure the ACC's position in any further Bowl Championship Series contracts.
The ACC's latest payout to its nine teams was a record $9.7 million each -- the most by any conference.
Miami lost $1.5 million during the 2001-02 academic year -- a season in which the football team won the national title and themen's basketball team posted its best record ever and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia and that state's legislature were pushing hard for the Hokies to be included in deal. But a proposal submitted by theCavaliers to include in-state rival Virginia Tech fell short of the necessary seven votes by ACC school presidents, the leagueannounced.
Clemson's James Barker, chair of the ACC Council of Presidents, said expansion is pending based on ACC by-laws, which includevisits to the three campuses and discussions with each school president.
N.C. State athletic director Lee Fowler said the ACC's show of unity in the process was impressive.
"I don't think it's over by any means, but I'm glad we've come to this decision before the (Big East) started formal discussions," Fowler said.
"A lot of people have accused us of being after money only. But we're just looking to maintain our position financially," he said."Some people thought staying where we were has been good, but it's healthy we're moving ahead as a cohesive group."
Weaver, reached in his hotel room in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., preparing for the Big East meetings, was direct and to the pointwhen he heard the news.
"My resolve is to work as hard as we can to keep the Big East Conference intact," Weaver said. "But obviously we don't want tospend four or five days doing that and then have people say they're gone. I'd rather if they've made up their minds, tell us up frontso we can get on with life."
Virginia Tech and the other Big East schools could find themselves in football limbo in a few weeks.
"We might have had money to help Miami stay, but I don't think we have extra money to make Syracuse and BC stay," Weaver said ofany possible incentives the Big East could offer schools. "And to be honest with you, if Syracuse and BC don't want this to happen, they can say no because I know the ACC doesn't want to go to 10.
"Those people are going to have travel budgets like they've never encountered before for their Olympic sports," Weaver added."They'll understand what we have been doing at Virginia Tech because we've got to get on airplanes for everybody."
The ACC has expanded just twice in 50 years. Georgia Tech came into the league in 1978, and football power Florida State was addedin 1991.