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Hurricane Warning: Miami Accepts Invitation To ACC

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CORAL GABLES, FLA. — Miami accepted an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference on Monday, spurning a flurry oflast-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 strongestfootball 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 theopportunity 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 ourattention to the future and the challenges that lie ahead," BigEast Commissioner Mike Tranghese said in a separate statement.

Nonetheless, a lawyer for four of the Big East schools that suedto block the ACC's expansion said they would continue their courtbattle.

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

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

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

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

Officials from several Big East schools tried to persuade theHurricanes to stay put. The Miami officials were studying acounter proposal from Big East members, who had previouslyguaranteed the Hurricanes $45 million over five years to stay intheir league.

The counter offer was led by Boston College and Syracuse, theother two schools the ACC originally targeted in its 12-teamscenario. But those institutions were told last week they would notreceive invitations.

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

A lawsuit contends Big East members Connecticut, Rutgers, WestVirginia and Pittsburgh have spent millions on their footballprograms based on presumed loyalty from schools it had been alignedwith, including Miami.

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

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

"We will continue vigorously to protect the Big East in thecourts of Connecticut," said Jeffrey Mishkin, the lead counsel forthe Big East plaintiffs. "The ACC's 50th anniversary will now bemarked with depositions and document discovery exposing the ACC'spredatory 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 BigEast play (66-10), followed by Virginia Tech (53-23), which ispercentage points ahead of Syracuse (56-26).

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

Since the inception of the Big East's football conference in1991, Miami is the only school to have won a national championship.The Hurricanes won national titles in 1991 and 2001, plus playedfor the crown after last season, losing to Ohio State.

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

Miami voted to join the Big East in October 1990, five monthsbefore the league's football conference was formed. The Big Easthad long been best known as a basketball conference, especiallyafter the success Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova enjoyedduring the 1980s.

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

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

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

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