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UPDATE: Miami, Va. Tech. accept invitations from ACC

UPDATED 1:15 A.M. TUESDAY JULY 1, 2003:

In the end, it all came down to a simple game of hide and seek for University of Miami president Donna Shalala.

After waiting for seven weeks during a fierce game of tug o' war between the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference--fought in the courtroom, in myriad teleconferences and under the scrutiny of the media--the ACC pulled away with Miami Monday afternoon, after already landing Virginia Tech last Friday.

"Ready or not, here we come," Shalala told ACC Council of Presidents Chair and Clemson President James Barker Monday afternoon.

The Hurricanes and Hokies will each pay $4 million--$3 million to the ACC, and $1 million to the Big East--in order to begin competitive play in the new 11-member conference in the 2004-2005 season, Shalala said.

"We accept the invitation from the ACC with enthusiasm," Shalala told a horde of media Monday afternoon. "The ACC has built a remarkable conference based on equal treatment and higher academic and athletic expectations. We have both. This is a good move for the University. We look forward to joining them to build a strong academic conference to accompany their exceptional athletic conference."

ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who has come under significant criticism nationally for his handling of the expansion, officially announced the new memberships of Miami and Virginia Tech in a press conference Monday evening.

"The Atlantic Coast Conference is pleased that both the University of Miami and Virginia Tech have accepted invitations to join the Conference beginning in the 2004-05 academic year," he said. "Because of this expansion, the Conference may well be strongerthan at any point in its history. The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC will undoubtedly benefit all of the conference's student-athletes. Our student-athletes want to compete against the best and our fans want to see the best competition. Both the academic and athletic profiles of Miami and Virginia Tech fit well with the league's current members."

Certainly, the ACC now appears to be a conglomerate in NCAA athletics, though this is more due to Miami's prowess in varsity sports than Virginia Tech's. Both schools field two of the nation's premier football programs, but Miami's overall superiority is undeniable.

During the 2002-03 season, Miami held top 10 national rankings in the following men's sports: football, baseball and men's cross country. Miami's women's sports are not as competitive, though the Hurricanes' women's tennis program was ranked in the top 25 in 2003, its women's swimming program won two national team titles in the 1970's, and its women's volleyball team swept Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2003. In addition, Miami has several standout individual performers in men's swimming and diving, track and field, and tennis.

Virginia Tech has a competitive women's volleyball program, but has struggled in the Big East in men's and women's soccer, men's and women's tennis, women's lacrosse and baseball, among other sports. The ramifications of expansion for student-athletes are not so clear cut. In fact, the two ACC schools, Duke and North Carolina, who consistently voted against expansion cited such reasons throughout the process. Specifically, UNC Chancellor James Moeser and Duke President Nan Keohane were concerned about travel time, travel costs and academic problems for student-athletes.

Regardless, UNC graciously accepted its two newest members Monday evening.

"I welcome Miami and Virginia Tech into the ACC," Moeser said in a statement. "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."

Keohane did not return phone calls or e-mails Monday evening. Still, the ACC expansion process must clear one more hurdle: a lawsuit from four Big East members. The suit will continued to be
carried out, the Associated Press reported.

Please stay tuned to the Chronicle online for further details.

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The Atlantic Coast Conference officially invited Virginia Tech and Miami to join the conference Wednesday afternoon, following six weeks of debate, litigation and indecision regarding an expansion plan that originally sought but ultimately snubbed Boston College and Syracuse.

Virginia Tech - which pulled out of a five-school lawsuit against the ACC, Miami and Boston College at 4 p.m. Wednesday - decided to accept the ACC's invitation following an emergency hour-long meeting Wednesday night, the Washington Post reported.

"Should we be offered membership, the University is prepared to accept an invitation from the ACC," Virginia Tech President Charles Steger said in a statement Wednesday night. "We look forward to this very special opportunity."

Miami President Donna Shalala released a statement saying that Miami would hold off on accepting the invitation, as the Hurricanes had originally stated they would only join the ACC if Boston College and Syracuse came with them.

"We are very appreciative of the invitation from the ACC to join their conference," Shalala said. "We are disappointed that they have decided not to extend invitations to Boston College and Syracuse. Since this is a new proposal, we will evaluate it before making a decision."

The new conference would begin play in the 2004-05 season, with the Hokies and Hurricanes both having to pay a $3 million entrance fee to the ACC. If both schools pull out of the Big East before Monday, a $1 million fine will be incurred; if the schools wait until after Monday, the fine doubles.

The Hokies were one of four original teams sought by the ACC six weeks ago, but were seemingly eliminated from the process May 16, when the ACC voted to invite Miami, Boston College and Syracuse. It was at that point that Virginia Tech joined a lawsuit brought by the five Big East football-playing schools in a last-ditch effort to stave off the ACC's attempt to raid its conference.

At first, it appeared as if the plan was working, as the ACC presidents stumbled into a 6-3 stalemate during expansion discussions, with opposition coming from Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. A 7-2 majority is necessary for legislation to pass according to ACC bylaws.

However, the expansion efforts were resuscitated when University of Virginia President John Casteen proposed that the ACC consider expanding to 13 schools, with Virginia Tech included. This development was a strategic move for Virginia, as the Cavaliers refused to support expansion unless Virginia Tech was included in the new ACC.

From there, the ACC presidents whittled their options down to two models: a 10-team model that would add only Miami, and a 12-team model that would include Miami, Virginia Tech and either Syracuse or Boston College.

The 10-team option was gaining considerable momentum Tuesday, as Big East member Rutgers and the Big East founder - in addition to Duke and North Carolina - came out in favor of the ACC taking only Miami, on the condition that it would cease courting other Big East institutions.

As such, it came as a great surprise Tuesday night when reports surfaced that Virginia Tech and Miami would be the invitees to the ACC, which would create an awkward 11-team conference. The odd number would seem to go against the original impetus of wanting to expand, as a 12-member ACC was sought - at least in part - in order for the conference to have a football championship game, a potential big moneymaker for the entire conference.

With just 11 teams, the ACC would have to persuade the NCAA to lower the number of teams required in a conference to hold a football championship game; or the conference would have to find a 12th member.

The ACC may request a waiver of the requirement, but the NCAA's Division I associate chief of staff Steve Mallonee said Wednesday that he was unaware of any such request, and that no conference had asked for the waiver since the rule was created in 1987.

"The conference has to give reasons why the administrative rules committee should set aside the rule," Mallonee told the Associated Press. "Legislation is the better route. They have until July 15 to submit a legislative change."

An unidentified source to the Washington Post said the 12-team option will be difficult, particularly considering the black eye the ACC has developed during the entire expansion process.

"This was all salvageable and could have had a magnificent finish until last night," the source said. "We have some issues here. The Big Ten says, 'Okay, Penn State is ready to come,' [to form an 11-team league], that's different. But who plans to go from nine to 11? Who plans to do this? It's not a proud moment."

Regardless, ACC Council of Presidents chair and Clemson president James Barker was very optimistic in a statement made Wednesday afternoon, officially announcing the ACC's invitation to Virginia Tech and Miami.

 "These two institutions represent and share the values for which the ACC has long been known," Barker said. "We feel they will be a great addition to our family."

Virginia Tech's old family in the Big East used the defection as an impetus for a great deal of animosity yesterday, as the Hokies had vowed very recently that if the ACC were to offer them a place in the conference that they would turn it down.

"None of this has been easy," Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore told the Washington Post. "Tempers have flared on both sides. But I stand here proud of what we have accomplished."

Boston College and Syracuse are now forced to return to the Big East. Boston College released a succinct statement Wednesday in reaction to being dropped from consideration by the ACC, which stated that its discussions with the ACC had ended, and that the Big East was now considering new conference alignments. which may include luring Conference USA schools Louisville and Cincinnati in an attempt to maintain a 14-team conference. Both universities have traditionally strong basketball programs, arguably the strongest sport in the Big East.

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