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Miami Herald : The ACC is beckoning the U of Miami

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Posted on Sun, May. 11, 2003

Hurricanes' conference call: The ACC is beckoning
Even if UM stays, changes seem certain
BY BARRY JACKSON
bjackson@herald.com

A quarter-century ago, the University of Miami had an inconsistent football program, no men's basketball team and a limited sports identity beyond Ron Fraser's budding baseball powerhouse.

Now, the Hurricanes find themselves as the potential linchpin of changes that could dramatically impact college sports.

If UM leaves the Big East Conference and joins the Atlantic Coast Conference, Syracuse and Boston College likely would join the Hurricanes, and that would launch a domino effect that could doom or severely damage the Big East as a football league and impact two or three other conferences.

If UM doesn't end up in the ACC, it would stay in a potentially restructured Big East or could join a new league with only football-playing members.

''To a large extent, Miami is a big banana -- it could have in its grasp what happens to the Big East and the ACC,'' said former Miami News publisher David Kraslow, a UM Board of Trustees member since 1978.

''People should remember this is a private school, compared to the state schools that usually dominate Division I-A college football,'' added Kraslow, who believes Miami is ''better off'' staying in the Big East. ``It's remarkable what they've accomplished.''

Although UM president Donna Shalala said Friday the university has not decided whether to join the ACC, there is increasingly strong support internally to make the move, officials close to the discussions say.

UM athletic director Paul Dee is among those who favor the move, largely for financial reasons, a source said.

But obstacles remain. The ACC, which begins meetings today at Amelia Island, needs to secure the support of seven of nine presidents before it can expand. That's no certainty, even though ACC commissioner John Swofford remains privately optimistic about securing the necessary support.

Whatever UM decides, college sports might never be the same.

SCENARIO ONE

UM joins the ACC

The ACC generates $57 million a year in broadcast revenue -- $25 million in football and $32 million (most in the country) in basketball. Those figures would rise if Miami, Syracuse and Boston College join.

''If we got Syracuse and Miami, we would have the whole Eastern seaboard,'' Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden said. ``That's where everybody lives. We would have the best TV market in the country and the strongest basketball and football conferences. I hope it happens.''

But HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg wonders whether a 12-team ACC football league would be as appealing as some might think.

''I wonder if Miami wouldn't find itself in the same situation it is now, in a [mediocre] football league,'' Greenburg said. ``The ACC, in Miami's mind, would generate more television revenue, and that's [correct].

``But if North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia and the other schools stay in the middle of the pack and don't eek their way into the top 20, it's not going to have the desired effect.''

From a football standpoint, a 12-team ACC could add a conference championship game, which would generate an estimated $8 million to $10 million annually.

ABC, whose ACC football contract ends after the 2005 season, might receive competition from other networks.

The ACC also would be in position to compete for two bids in the Bowl Championship Series, should the BCS remain intact after the 2005 season.

The ACC receives $13 million for sending its champion to the BCS. A second berth would net the ACC another $4.5 million.

Despite the increased competition, there appears to be more support for expansion among football coaches than basketball coaches.

''For football, I think it's great,'' North Carolina State football coach Chuck Amato said. ``People think of the ACC for years as basketball. They are starting to think of the ACC as football now.''

Amato said having UM in the ACC ''would make it easier'' for other conference teams to recruit in Miami.

Said Amato: 'It would be, `Son, your mom is going to see you play in the Orange Bowl when we come and play them.' We can say we are on the same level.''

Several basketball coaches oppose expansion partly because it would create two divisions and partly because of the heavy demand for ACC tournament tickets.

''The basketball coaches have a sense of trepidation about it,'' Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said.

``It's a great basketball league, and you don't mess with great most of the time.''

ESPN basketball analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas says expansion would leave the ACC without a legitimate regular-season champion.

''The ACC is a basketball league whether people want to admit it or not, and this would not be the proper move for basketball,'' he said. ``I realize they want the football playoff money. But adding three teams creates two divisions, and that keeps everybody from playing each other twice.''

Losing three schools would send the Big East scrambling.

The five remaining football schools -- Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Connecticut (which will replace Temple in two years) -- would be left seeking at least three new members.

They could turn to independents Central Florida and Navy or Conference USA schools Louisville, Cincinnati and Army. But such a conference likely would not get an automatic BCS bid.

For basketball, a depleted Big East likely would explore adding Conference USA schools or Atlantic 10 universities such as Richmond, Massachusetts, Temple and Rhode Island.

''We will react -- we will have a plan,'' Ray Cella, the Atlantic 10's assistant commissioner, told The Charlotte Observer. 'We are not going to twiddle our thumbs and go like Ralph Kramden and say, `Hummina. Hummina. Hummina.' ''

The five remaining Big East schools also could try to attract interest from the Big Ten, which has 11 members and has considered adding another member so it can have a conference football championship game. Pittsburgh might have the best chance of attracting a Big Ten bid.

SCENARIO TWO

UM doesn't join the ACC

Miami's athletic program reportedly lost $1.72 million in 2001-02 despite winning the football national championship, and struggles consistently to break even.

That's why changes figure to happen in the Big East eventually, even if UM doesn't end up in the ACC.

Adding Notre Dame -- which plays in the Big East in basketball but not football -- would bolster the conference's finances dramatically. But Notre Dame isn't interested because of its lucrative NBC television contract.

One option that has been debated internally is the Big East's eight football schools, including Miami, branching out on their own.

Such a scenario would leave Big East basketball members Notre Dame, Georgetown, St. John's, Villanova, Providence and Seton Hall in position to form a basketball-only league.

''If the football schools do their own thing, you're still left with five of the most prominent private institutions in the country -- some of the best basketball schools, and Notre Dame as a wild card,'' Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro told The Philadelphia Daily News.

Such a league could pursue DePaul or Marquette from Conference USA, or Temple, Rhode Island or Richmond from the Atlantic 10.

''A school like Marquette or Xavier would be ready for [Big East basketball],'' Bilas said.

``You could pick among a number of schools. It's like throwing darts at a board.''

After criticizing the ACC's pursuit of Miami three weeks ago, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has declined all interview requests to discuss the conference's future.

''It all feels like a greedy money play,'' HBO's Greenburg said. ``At the end of the day, instead of jumping between conferences, I would like to see the colleges focus on making sure all the student-athletes attend class and have some semblance of an academic life.''

If Miami, Boston College and Syracuse stay in the Big East, the ACC likely would remain at nine schools, unless the ACC's athletic directors could be convinced to add West Virginia, Virginia Tech or Pittsburgh. Virginia is said to support including Virginia Tech instead of Boston College.

A nine-team ACC likely would maintain its automatic BCS bid but would find it difficult to get a second BCS berth.

WHAT ABOUT THE BCS?

Besides the Big East and ACC, the Bowl Championship Series also faces an uncertain future.

Under the current system, bids are awarded to champions from six major conferences -- the Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-10 and Southeastern are the others -- and two at-large teams (usually Notre Dame or members of a major conference.)

The teams play in the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls.

The system was designed to guarantee a meeting between the teams ranked first and second in the BCS rankings.

But there was controversy three years ago when Florida State received a championship game berth ahead of Miami, which had beaten the Seminoles that season.

Because the setup has resulted in somewhat diminished interest in BCS games that do not determine the national champion, the system might be tweaked.

Conference commissioners and university presidents will decide the BCS' fate in the next year, well before the television contract with ABC expires after the 2005 season.

Shalala is representing the Big East on a committee studying possibilities.

One option being considered is adding a fifth bowl to the rotation.

That would create opportunity for a team from a mid-major conference that finishes unbeaten or with one loss.

Another option is adding a one-game playoff after the BCS bowls.

''That may have some merit, but this year, there would have been a [Miami-Ohio State] rematch if there had been a one-game playoff after the bowls,'' UM coach Admin Coker said.

The BCS bowls would be resistant to change that would lessen their prestige. ''Bowl executives like the system,'' Orange Bowl Committee CEO Keith Tribble said. ``In November, all the conversation is about the BCS -- you can't buy that type of marketing.''

Although some believe a playoff is inevitable, it's still a long shot for 2006 because of opposition from college presidents.
 

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