The proposed expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which appeared to be progressing quickly just one week ago, has been considerably disrupted following President Nan Keohane's withholding of her support for the expansion plan, a lawsuit filed by the Big East Conference against the ACC and would-be members Miami and Boston College and a call for mediation from the NCAA by Virginia governor Mark Warner.
Keohane deferred comment in an e-mail Wednesday morning, saying only that "we will continue to follow the due diligence steps that are outlined in our Bylaws and discuss the issues as we see them."
Keohane's conference-wide e-mail was sent Friday, a day after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser announced his intention to vote against ACC expansion in a letter written to conference leaders.
That Keohane and Moeser were leery of expansion has never been in doubt, as Duke and UNC were the lone schools initially to vote against expansion in May. However, both voted in favor of beginning formal conversations with Miami, Syracuse and Boston College - the three schools invited to leave the Big East for the ACC - just a week later.
According to Friday's e-mail, Keohane's misgivings have always been centered on "time spent in travel, the length of playing seasons, complex logistics and costs of travel." She was able to support the opening of talks with new possible members because "Duke wanted to be able to participate constructively in discussions about how an expanded conference might be configured," and she "was unwilling to be instrumental in ending all expansion conversations not internal to the ACC."
However, Keohane wrote that she was unconvinced that discussions held thus far had sufficiently assuaged her concerns and that she was therefore unable to support expansion. Keohane stopped short at denounce the expansion plan altogether.
Given such uncertainty, the ACC's proposed expansion is not guaranteed to occur, as conference bylaws necessitate at least seven votes to pass expansion legislation. With Duke and UNC opposed, the onus falls on the schools that have been wavering on the issue, particularly Virginia, which has been under great pressure from Governor Warner to support expansion only if Virginia Tech is one of the schools invited.
Indeed, Warner's influence has been considerable. He proposed Tuesday that the NCAA mediate the controversy between the two conferences. The request was swiftly denied by NCAA President Myles Brand, who said his organization was no authority to intervene in such matters. However, Brand did offer his assistance "if an invitation to do so was forthcoming from all parties."
Warner's plea came on the heels of the announcement that five Big East schools had filed a lawsuit Friday against Miami, Boston College and the ACC. The lawsuit charges Miami and Boston College with conspiring with the ACC, therefore abandoning "their contractual and fiduciary obligations to their partner schools in the Big East."
The plaintiffs - West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Connecticut and Pittsburgh - filed the suit "as a last resort and with great regret," West Virginia President David Hardesty said Wednesday afternoon.
"But it looked like [the completion of the expansion] was coming down and that we were not going to get an audience for our point of view or to point out what we thought was being done wrong," Hardesty said. "Perhaps the filing of the suit will cause people on both sides to slow down and think things through."
The process has certainly slowed, as the ACC presidents met in multi-hour teleconferences both Tuesday and Wednesday. It was originally speculated that the final vote on expansion was to occur at Tuesday's planned meeting. However, no such vote occurred, "no conclusions were reached, nor were any intended to be reached," according to ACC commissioner John Swofford.
In addition, no timetable has been set regarding a final vote.
"There is no immediate need for a vote, so we will vote when we feel that we have completed what we need to do to be ready to take a vote," Keohane wrote.
Duke athletic director Joe Alleva acknowledged having also been involved in Tuesday's conference, but declined to comment further on the issue until the situation is resolved.
"We are trying to make sure we make the best decision for the ACC and for Duke University," Alleva wrote in an e-mail.
The specific goals of the meetings are still unclear, though it has been reported by several news sources that the primary objectives are to alleviate the concerns of Keohane and Moeser and to address the lawsuit from the Big East.
Wednesday evening's meeting concluded without any vote as well.
However, the Big East made a bold move Wednesday by inviting the ACC presidents to a meeting, citing the need for "face-to-face conversations." In the invitation, the Big East presidents wrote that they believed the "ACC's contemplated actions will be highly destructive" to the Big East schools, to the conference as a whole and for "intercollegiate athletics more broadly."
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