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ACC Formally Extends Invitations To Miami, Virginia Tech

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — The hallowed doors of the Atlantic Coast Conference are opening.

The ACC ended its

six-week expansion saga

Wednesday by formally inviting Miami and Virginia Tech to leave the Big East and join its league.

"These two institutions represent and share the values for which the ACC has long been known," said Clemson University President James F. Barker, head of the league's Council of Presidents. "We feel they will be a great addition to ourfamily."

Earlier Wednesday, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors unanimously voted in favor of joining the ACC. School President Charles Steger said the Hokies "would be inclined to accept it."

Barker said the invitation to Virginia Tech, a dark-horse candidate added at the insistence of Virginia President John Casteen III, was subject to the completion of a required campus visit by the ACC. A delegation of four to five ACC representatives went to Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus Wednesday morning.

For more than a month, the nine-team ACC talked about expanding by inviting three or four Big East teams -- Boston College, Miami, Syracuse and possibly Virginia Tech.

But the league was unable to come up with the seven votes needed to move forward. ACC schools Duke and North Carolina opposed inviting BC, Miami and Syracuse, and Virginia resisted any expansion that didn't involve Virginia Tech.

Five Big East schools -- Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia Tech and West Virginia --

filed suit June 6

to try to stopBC, Miami and Syracuse from leaving. A Connecticut judge was to hear preliminary arguments Thursday in the suit.

Even Miami President Donna Shalala was disappointed with the final outcome, saying she would reserve judgement after re-evaluating the invitation to join the ACC.

Shalala issued a statement Wednesday saying her school wasappreciative of the invitation but disappointed that invitations were not extended to Boston College and Syracuse.

Shalala added that, because a new proposal had been issued, the schoolwould evaluate it before making a decision on whether or not to accept.

ACC officials refused to give the official vote total Wednesday. Spokesman Brian Morrison wouldn't say whether any school had dissented.

Morrison also said he didn't know if ACC Commissioner John Swofford had talked to officials from Syracuse or Boston College.

Officials from BC knew about the invitations before they were formally extended, sending out a press release earlier Wednesday announcing that invitations were going to Miami and Virginia Tech.

The decision was a surprise;

a move to go to 11 schools hadn't been among the many scenarios floated since the ACC voted May 13 to expand for the first time since 1991.

Acceptances by both Virginia Tech and Miami still would leave the ACC one member short of the number necessary to hold a football conference championship game.

The league took two teams instead of just Miami because there was a sense from ACC officials that the Hurricanes may not come to the league by themselves. But a source in Miami told WRAL earlier Wednesday that Miami was ready to join the ACC no matter the scenario.

The ACC could seek a waiver of the 12-team requirement for a football championship game. But Steve Mallonee, the NCAA's Division I associate chief of staff, said Wednesday he was unaware of any such request.

The heads of the league's schools met by teleconference Tuesday night. It was during that call that the nine presidents came up with the plan to invite Miami and Virginia Tech, though none would discuss the meeting's outcome.

Tuesday's call was the fifth call among the Council of Presidents in two weeks.

Any school that leaves the Big East will have to pay a $1 million penalty. That amount doubles if the school leaves after June 30.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said any new expansion plan would not affect the Big East's lawsuit.

"Even if the deal is different, our determination is undiminished to hold accountable Miami and the ACC," Blumenthal said late Tuesday. "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."

This marks only the third expansion in a half-century for the ACC, aleague that built its reputation on basketball and not major gridiron success.

Miami has been the primary target from the start of the expansion talks. The Hurricanes were in last season's national-championship game and won the crown in 2002.

The Hurricanes were singled out by the NCAA as a major-college dynastyfrom 1983-92 with four football championships in that stretch.

Miami's incentive to switch leagues was clear -- money. The school's athletic association lost $1.5 million during the 2001-02 academic calendar year -- a season in which the football team won the national title and the men's basketball team posted its best record in history and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Now all that's left is for the official acceptance by Miami and Virginia Tech.

Though Swofford and other ACC officials did not expect a press conference Wednesday night, they are hoping for a big party Thursday.

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