In a 7-2 vote Tuesday, Atlantic Coast Conference university presidents voted in favor of an expansion plan that would increase the number of league schools to 12 from nine, a move that - if finalized - would reverberate throughout major and mid-major conferences across America.
Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both traditional basketball powers, voted against the proposed expansion, which would have significant ramifications for basketball, which has been the ACC's signature sport since its the conference's inception in 1953.
Specifically, the ACC's rivalries, double round-robin regular season format, and post-season tournament arrangement would be greatly altered. Additionally, a 12-way split of conference proceeds earned from television revenue would equate to less money per school. Last season, the ACC divvied out $9.7 million to each of its schools, the most of any conference.
"It is no secret that Duke has some reservations about expansion; we think the ACC works well as it is, and want to protect some of the important attributes of our conference," President Nan Keohane said in an e-mail late Wednesday night. "However, we are also team players, and if a final decision is made to expand, even though that would not be our preference, we will be in the conversations about how the arrangements should be worked out."
Keohane deferred further comment regarding the deliberations, writing that "the presidents and chancellors have been asked to keep our deliberations confidential."
Still, conference officials made it clear that the expansion and its details are yet to be completed.
"The conference call among the league's chancellors and presidents this morning was another step toward completion of an ongoing process that is not yet finalized," ACC commissioner John Swofford said Tuesday afternoon. "It is not appropriate at this time for me to share the particulars of the morning conference call out of respect to our own schools and to potential candidates."
Among the issues delaying a conclusive vote is disagreement among ACC members as to which schools should be invited to join the conference. The consensus among several media sources, including The Charlotte Observer and ESPN, is that Miami is the top expansion target and is almost certain to receive an invitation if infact the conference adds three members. However, the schools that voted in favor of the expansion have varying opinions regarding the membership of the other top candidates, Syracuse University, Boston College and Virginia Tech University. Each school being considered is currently a member of the Big East, a traditional basketball conference comprised mostly of northeastern schools.
Still, the advantages of expanding the conference are plentiful. By adding three members, the ACC would become the third superconference in America, along with the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12. If the expansion plan is finalized, the ACC would claim a definite place in the next Bowl Championship Series, which is scheduled to be revamped in 2006. Also, the increased membership would give the conference a better chance at placing two teams in the BCS, adding another $13 million to the conference.
Expansion would also force the ACC to split into two six-team divisions, thus forcing a championship game - an event that has annually made millions of dollars for the SEC and Big 12 conferences. Finally, a 12-team ACC would also garner a significant TV deal.
And despite the contention over which schools will be offered invitations, it is clear that the ACC will expand regardless of who joins.
"There are a still a couple of issues, but the ACC will be expanding," said Chairman of the Florida State Board of Trustees, John Thrasher, in the Charlotte Observer. "Miami really wants Syracuse as part of its package. We definitely want Miami, Syracuse and Boston College, but a couple of ACC schools have a different view of that."
Virginia, for example, has been pressured by the state's governor to encourage the membership of Virginia Tech. According to reports from USA Today, Virginia voted "yes" on the condition that Virginia Tech would be one of the schools invited. Miami, however, has insisted on being accompanied by Syracuse and Boston College.
If the expansion is finally passed, the new ACC would go into effect in either the fall of 2004 or 2005.