Local News

Virginia Governor Asks For Mediation In ACC Expansion

Posted June 10, 2003 2:52 a.m. EDT

— As Atlantic Coast Conference officials prepared for a Tuesday conference call to discuss the league's expansion plans, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner called on the NCAA or another body to mediate the proposed expansion rather than allow a protracted and expensive legal battle.

"The Commonwealth of Virginia's interests as a whole will be ensured with an outcome that keeps both the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech in major athletic conferences," Warner said in a statement, "with all the attending national prominence and relationships with major universities."

In response to Warner's statement, NCAA President Myles Brand said the NCAA will take a "hand-off" approach to ACC expansion. Brand said the NCAA has no authority to intervene in a school's right to pick its own conference affiliation.

Warner's remarks came a day after reports that ACC schools Duke and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill -- who previously voted in favor of adding Big East schools Miami, Boston College and Syracuse -- were having second thoughts.

Four days ago, five schools from the Big East, including Virginia Tech, filed a lawsuit in a Connecticut court trying to stop the ACC from raiding their league.

The ACC needs the approval of seven of its nine schools to go forward with expansion. So expansion still could happen even though Duke and UNC have developed concerns about adding the three schools.

Because of those concerns, the ACC's nine presidents and chancellors delayed a vote on expansion that was expected to occur Tuesday. A conference call was scheduled Tuesday to discuss the concerns.

One of the big potential losers in the expansion talk has been Virginia Tech, which was rejected by the ACC schools for expansion.

Virginia Tech would go from a Big East powerhouse to a school with an uncertain future if three of the league's best teams leave for the new superconference.

In a conference call among representatives of the five schools that are suing, Pittsburgh president Mark Nordenberg endorsed mediation.

"One product of mediation might be plans by which two conferences operate, coexist and become stronger in years ahead," Nordenberg said. "Those are possibilities that haven't been discussed before."

That idea, plus the sudden misgivings expressed at Duke and UNC, should give new hope to schools that a week ago seemed resigned to the fact that Miami, Boston College and Syracuse were leaving.

The misgivings about expansion at Duke, revealed in an e-mail sent by Duke president Nan Keohane, said the Blue Devils were prepared to vote against expansion unless additional issues about student welfare, travel costs and divisional alignment were addressed.

"I voted in favor of entering formal conversations for collegial reasons," Keohane wrote in the e-mail, sent Friday. "I believe that was the right decision at the time. However, I am now concerned that the kinds of substantive discussions we anticipated before a final vote would be taken have not materialized and show no prospect of doing so."

North Carolina Chancellor James Moeser sent a letter to the ACC presidents Thursday, expressing similar concerns.

The potential glitch comes three days after the lawsuit was filed against the ACC, Miami and Boston College to try to stop the teams from defecting.

Unresolved, the suit could put Virginia President John T. Casteen III in position to scuttle the expansion plan by also voting against it.

Casteen has maintained that he believes Virginia Tech would be a good fit for the ACC and that he will continue to support its candidacy.

No other presidents at ACC schools have publicly expressed concerns about the expansion plan.

In her e-mail, Keohane noted the lawsuit and the perception that the ACC's expansion would virtually destroy the Big East as a football league.

"We are being charged with acting in bad faith by colleagues at other Big East universities," the Duke president wrote. "In order to feel even minimally comfortable with voting for an action that will have serious consequences for these peer institutions, I would have to be considerably more positive than I am now that the decision is actually the best one for our student athletes and for our conference."