Hurricanes blow over nervous landscape
[ Originally posted 07.01.03 ]
When Miami changed seats, passengers on the college football
bus tightened their seatbelts and held on. Monday's announcement by the Hurricanes that they will
squeeze their considerable hulk into a different space produced an immediate
sequence of new realities:
The Atlantic Coast Conference arrived at an expansion
destination far short of the one it had mapped out.
The Big East was left fretfully gripping its remaining bus
The boss of the NCAA didn't like the bumpy ride and
demanded it not be repeated.
A number of schools started fine-tuning their engines and
polishing their resumes in preparation for an impending ride on the bumper
Rejecting concerted overtures from Big East officials to
remain in their league, University of Miami president Donna Shalala said the
school will take up residence in the ACC after one more season in its old
The Hurricanes will bolt the Big East with Virginia Tech
after several weeks of controversy and a steady drumbeat of media criticism
over what many commentators have characterized as a brazen grab by the ACC
for money and power, without regard for potential consequences to other
NCAA president Myles Brand, who has insisted he lacks the
authority to intervene when one conference raids another, was nonetheless
critical of the ACC's tactics.
"I am disappointed the issue has been as disagreeable as it
has been," Brand said in a statement. "The integrity of intercollegiate
athletics demands that we handle conference alignments and related matters
in the future in a better way."
The new ACC configuration leaves it lacking the ubiquitous
northeastern market presence it hoped to secure with its original plan,
which figured on Boston College and Syracuse instead of the Hokies
leaping to the league with Miami.
The snubbed conference keeps key assets including BC and
the Orangemen but is left with only six
football-playing schools and faces the dual tasks of convincing holdovers to refrain from jumping to other leagues while recruiting at least
two new members to replace the Hurricanes and Hokies.
Adding members is not a luxury, but a necessity, in the view
of the chief executive of a prominent Big East school which has recently
experienced a resurgence of its storied football program a program which
now sees its future threatened.
"By the year 2005, our conference has to be larger," West
Virginia president David Hardesty said, according to The Associated Press.
In the pre-Bowl Championship Series era, the Mountaineers
challenged for the mythical national championship as recently as 1988,
compiling a perfect regular season record before losing to Notre Dame in the
Conference USA members Louisville, East Carolina and South
Florida are among roughly half a dozen all-sports schools likely to be
considered by the Big East for membership. Geography indicates that other
programs which might be in the mix might include include Army of C-USA,
independent Navy and MAC football member Central Florida.
If ECU, a longtime football independent until until three
years ago, decides it is willing to seriously consider moving to a new
league which is by no means a certainty the school's attractiveness to
the Big East is enhanced by history. The Pirates have had longstanding
scheduling relationships with Big East stalwarts Syracuse and West Virginia
as well as with departing programs Miami and Virginia Tech. The games have
been marked by demonstrated interest from fans and from cable television
On the other hand, the dynamics of conference realignment could change dramatically if
reported consultations between C-USA and Big East officials spawn a
cooperative effort to devise a reciprocal realignment of the leagues
tailored to meet the divergent interests of their collective members.
At the conclusion of C-USA's annual summit of its schools'
presidents last month, conference commissioner Britton Banowsky noted
the league was "actively monitoring the circumstances involving the ACC and
Big East" and hinted that collaboration with the Big East was possible.
As we concluded our meetings, we emerged with a commitment
to address these issues in an orderly and thoughtful manner and in
cooperation with the Big East and other affected conferences," he said. "It
is important to remember that we are institutions of higher learning, not
professional sports franchises, and we are rightfully held to a higher
standard in our dealings with others.
Both the Big East and C-USA anticipate continued prosperity in
basketball under the NCAA's open playoff format to determine a national
champion. But many of the leagues' schools do not sponsor Division I-A football and
have no stake in implementing structural changes to foster the football
aspirations of those members which wish to be positioned for reasonable
access to the BCS cartel or any successor arrangement designed to crown a national
ACC presidents had originally targeted the trio of Miami,
Boston College and Syracuse as candidates to fulfill a plan to expand the
conference to 12 members.
However, unless an additional school is lured into the
conference, the ACC will field only 11 members when the Hurricanes and
Hokies formally begin competition in 2004-05. The odd number of schools will
complicate intra-conference scheduling and will almost certainly spell the
end of the ACC's cozy round-robin scheduling arrangement.
Despite introducing the new scheduling complexities,
which league officials had originally portrayed as a sacrifice they were
willing to make in order to achieve greater influence and more lucrative financial rewards, the
pending ACC configuration fails to satisfy the NCAA's minimum
standards for conducting a football championship game.
The NCAA mandates that a conference must field at least 12
football-playing programs divided into two divisions of six teams or more
in order to stage a title game. The promise of such a game and the financial
windfall it could be expected to earn from television interests was one of
the ACC's primary selling points to Miami when it began formally
courting the school.
Two of the ACC's linchpin schools, North Carolina and Duke,
were opposed when the conference's Council of Presidents apparently
impulsively abandoned all
expansion scenarios it had previously deliberated and voted 7-2 to issue
invitations to Miami and Virginia Tech.
Among the biggest and potentially most contentious internal
issues the ACC will have to confront will be the dividing up of prized
tickets to the league's annual basketball tournament. The tickets are
considered prime perks for major financial boosters at each school.
Because of the resulting smaller ticket allotment to each institution,
the ACC would be forced to abandon most of the traditional venues which have
hosted the tournament for more expansive domed stadiums. Otherwise, key
supporters face the likelihood of being expunged from the ticket lists.
Miami accepted the invitation to join the ACC after
intense last-minute lobbying by Boston College and Syracuse and belated financial
inducements from Big East officials to entice the Hurricanes to stay put.
Jeffrey Mishkin, the lead attorney in a lawsuit filed by Big
East schools and other interests to try to stop the ACC's raid and to seek
monetary damages for what is alleged to be a conspiracy to enhance the ACC
at the Big East's expense, indicated the legal action will proceed.
Regardless of the outcome of the courtroom maneuvers, other conferences are likely to
be affected by the fallout of what many see as the beginning of a
potentially massive realignment of schools and their league affiliations.
As for what lies ahead for the Big East, Commissioner Mike
Tranghese indicated in a statement the league will not rush to decide its
"At some point in the future, our chief executive officers
and athletic directors will come together to discuss our future," said
Tranghese. "It is my hope that we deliberately embark on this very complex
task with patience, sensitivity and thoughtfulness."
Of necessity, one of the Big East's first priorities will be
to decide if the unwieldy conglomeration of its membership base which,
without Miami and Virginia Tech, will be sharply divided between the
football-playing and non-football-playing schools dictates a fundamental
change in the league's objectives and a working relationship of sorts with
Copyright 2003 Bonesville.net. The Associated
Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This
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02/23/2007 10:36:47 AM