Local News

Hurricane Warning: Miami Accepts Invitation To ACC

Posted July 1, 2003 1:32 a.m. EDT

— Miami accepted an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference on Monday, spurning a flurry of last-minute offers from Big East officials to remain in their league.

The university's decision to join Virginia Tech in defecting from the Big East dramatically alters the balance of power within the conferences, bringing the ACC two of the nation's strongest football programs and leaving the Big East with a big void.

"It has been a bizarre, strange, and goofy process," Miami president Donna Shalala said. "But it has allowed us the opportunity to have the distance to decide who we are, where we are and where we want to go."

Said ACC Commissioner John Swofford: "I think there are two institutions that, both academically and athleticly as well as geographically, fix very well with the Atlantic Coast Conference and I think this makes us a stronger conference."

Chancellors at some ACC schools expressed their approval of Miami's decision.

"I am delighted that these two institutions -- the University of Miami and Virginia Tech -- have accepted the ACC's invitation to join our conference," North Carolina State Chancellor Marye Anne Fox said. "The addition of these two exceptional universities strengthens the conference not only in terms of athletic competition, but also in fostering continued academic partnerships that will improve the lives of all our students, especially our student athletes."

Said University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser: "I welcome Miami and Virginia Tech into the ACC. Despite the concerns I have expressed about expansion, we at Carolina are committed to making it work. The strengths of this conference have always been its wonderful culture and great collegial relationships among member institutions, and I am confident those strengths will continue as we move forward."

Others were not happy with the recent ACC developments.

"I am disappointed and disillusioned by the outcome," said former Duke basketball coach Bucky Waters. "When Miami won the national football championship in 2001, they had a budget deficit of $1.5 million, and Virginia Tech, God bless them, they just won the athletic lottery as a result of a political train wreck."

The presidents and chancellors of the six remaining Big East football schools -- Boston College, Syracuse, Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and West Virginia -- vowed their conference would become "even stronger."

"Although we are certainly disappointed with the actions taken this week by the ACC, we as a conference will now turn our attention to the future and the challenges that lie ahead," Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said in a separate statement.

Nonetheless, a lawyer for four of the Big East schools that sued to block the ACC's expansion said they would continue their court battle.

Miami and Virginia Tech will begin playing in the ACC as soon as the 2004-05 season. Both remain Big East members for 2003-04, since schedules have already been made.

Each school will pay the Big East a $1 million exit fee and the ACC a $3 million entrance fee. If Miami had made its intentions known after Monday, its exit fee could have doubled.

Virginia Tech president Charles Steger said last week his school was joining the ACC, and formally accepted the offer Monday.

The ACC originally sought to expand to 12 schools so it could offer a lucrative conference title game in football. While the league plans to seek another school, it also could ask the NCAA to change the 12-member requirement.

Officials from several Big East schools tried to persuade the Hurricanes to stay put. The Miami officials were studying a counter proposal from Big East members, who had previously guaranteed the Hurricanes $45 million over five years to stay in their league.

The counter offer was led by Boston College and Syracuse, the other two schools the ACC originally targeted in its 12-team scenario. But those institutions were told last week they would not receive invitations.

Miami's decision ensures the legal battle over the ACC's expansion will continue.

A lawsuit contends Big East members Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh have spent millions on their football programs based on presumed loyalty from schools it had been aligned with, including Miami.

On Monday, a judge in Connecticut, where the lawsuit was filed, denied a motion by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to speed up the case. Blumenthal had asked the judge to order several key players, including Shalala, to give depositions or sworn testimony as early as Tuesday. Instead, the judge began a two-week vacation.

Virginia Tech was removed as a plaintiff in the case after being invited to join the ACC. Miami now is the lone one, accused of participating in a conspiracy intended to weaken the Big East.

"We will continue vigorously to protect the Big East in the courts of Connecticut," said Jeffrey Mishkin, the lead counsel for the Big East plaintiffs. "The ACC's 50th anniversary will now be marked with depositions and document discovery exposing the ACC's predatory conduct and Miami's conspiratorial actions."

Miami has won six of the 12 Big East football championships; Virginia Tech has three.

Miami has the best all-time record in Big East play (66-10), followed by Virginia Tech (53-23), which is percentage points ahead of Syracuse (56-26).

In the last three seasons, Miami has the best record among all Division I-A football programs, 35-2. Virginia Tech (29-9) is tied for eighth on that list.

Since the inception of the Big East's football conference in 1991, Miami is the only school to have won a national championship. The Hurricanes won national titles in 1991 and 2001, plus played for the crown after last season, losing to Ohio State.

Virginia Tech also played for the national championship after the 1999 season, losing to Florida State.

Miami voted to join the Big East in October 1990, five months before the league's football conference was formed. The Big East had long been best known as a basketball conference, especially after the success Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova enjoyed during the 1980s.

The Big East's original attraction to Miami was mainly linked to its football successes: The Hurricanes had had won three football national titles in the eight years before their acceptance into the conference.

"Our future was at stake," Tranghese said Oct. 10, 1990, the day Miami's trustees voted unanimously to join the Big East. "If the Big East and the University of Miami could not have gotten together, I'm not certain we had an answer that would have satisfied the football concerns of Pitt, Boston College and Syracuse."

Now, as Miami has staked its future in the ACC, the Big East's future may be at stake again.