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Non-revs 'excited' about ACC expansion

When Boston College joined the ACC in July and completed the league's gradual expansion to 12 teams, the media's primary focus was on football, and its new divisional structure and lucrative conference championship. The end of the double round robin in basketball-a result of the increased number of teams-was just as talked about.

But lost amid the discussion was what was happening to the rest of the sports, the ones that don't make national news on a regular basis. With three of Duke's teams-field hockey and men's and women's soccer-making the trip to Boston College this weekend for the first time, the general consensus within the athletic department is one of cautious satisfaction with the changes.

"There are different impacts across the board, but by and large teams seem to be excited," Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Kennedy said.

The soccer teams departed for Boston Thursday morning in preparation for their double-header Friday evening. It will be the first time the men's team has ever played the Golden Eagles and the second time for the women.

"Going to Boston every other year is a great trip for our players," men's head coach John Rennie said. "For us [the expansion] has meant two more highly competitive games in the league each season. It's been great."

Traditionally strong men's and women's soccer programs at Boston College and Virginia Tech, which joined the league in 2004, have bolstered the strength of the league in soccer.

Opponents of the conference's expansion from nine to 12 teams worried that trips each year to places like Miami and Boston would create travel problems and take student-athletes out of class. But so far Duke's coaches seem to agree that the negative effect has been little, if any.

"It probably means one more day of missed class over the course of a year because most of our away games are on weekends anyway," Rennie said.

Field hockey head coach Beth Bozman, whose team plays at Boston College Saturday afternoon, agreed.

"It puts some strain on travel, but all sports do it," she said.

One sport with a particularly tough travel schedule this weekend is the women's soccer team. After playing in Boston Friday night the team must return to North Carolina to play a Sunday afternoon match at N.C. State.

Kennedy said there have been no appreciable effects so far on the budgets allocated for travel either. Teams are now traveling to Boston, Miami or Blacksburg, Va., instead of taking another trip to a non-conference opponent.

Although early concerns about travel have been largely assuaged, the enlarged conference has changed the competitive dynamic in the league for some programs. Sports like rowing and field hockey were pleased with the additions because it meant an increase to six teams, whereas volleyball went up to 12 teams and a tightly-packed 22-game conference slate.

"I hate to say it but when it was eight teams it was a whole different story," volleyball head coach Jolene Nagel said. "Now with 12 teams it can have a negative effect toward the postseason."

Nagel's squad found out the dangers of a larger conference last season when it lost in the then 11-team ACC Tournament and failed to receive an automatic bid. In response to the cries of inequity associated with the outcome of last season, the ACC abolished the postseason tournament and returned its automatic bid to the team with the best record in a 12-team double round robin.

"[Before] it was not an accurate picture of which teams deserve the conference's bids to the tournament," Nagel said. "Now we have to understand the importance of every match because there's no chance to pull it out in the conference tournament."

The field hockey team has not had trouble making the NCAA Tournament under Bozman, but the addition of Boston College to the league has meant a schedule that includes 11 away games and only six at home.

With six teams now in the league, the ACC receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. But because of the strength of the ACC programs-all six are ranked in the top 21-the automatic bid will likely not make a significant impact on the league's postseason participation in field hockey.

"Really for us there have been very few negatives," Bozman said. "It has helped college hockey."

It might be too early to call the changes a complete success for all the affected teams, but most signs so far seem to be positive.

"The ACC got what was intended which was increased football revenue," Rennie said. "We took a 'wait and see' approach. Whatever was going to happen was going to."

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