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Monday, June 30
Hurricanes spurn Big East's last-ditch offers to stay

Associated Press

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Loyalty and money weren't enough to keep Miami from bolting the Big East. The Hurricanes believe their future is more secure in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Ending a seven-week courtship, Miami accepted the ACC's invitation Monday, rejecting a better financial offer from the Big East to stay put.

"Ready or not, here we come,'' Miami president Donna Shalala told Clemson president James Barker.

Miami's decision to join Virginia Tech in defecting from the Big East dramatically alters the balance of power in the conferences. The ACC adds two of the nation's strongest football programs; the Big East is left with a big void.

"It has been a bizarre, strange, and goofy process,'' Shalala said. "But it has allowed us the opportunity to give ourselves some distance, so that we got a view of who we are, where we are and where we want to be.''

The presidents and chancellors of the six remaining Big East football schools -- Boston College, Syracuse, Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and West Virginia -- vowed their conference would become "even stronger.''

"Although we are certainly disappointed with the actions taken this week by the ACC, we as a conference will now turn our attention to the future and the challenges that lie ahead,'' Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said in a statement.

Nonetheless, a lawyer for four of the Big East schools that sued to block the ACC's expansion said they would continue their court battle.

Miami and Virginia Tech will begin playing in the ACC at the start of the 2004-05 season. Both remain Big East members for 2003-04, since schedules have already been made.

Each school will pay the Big East a $1 million exit fee and the ACC a $2 million entrance fee. If Miami had made its intentions known after Monday, its exit fee could have doubled.

Virginia Tech president Charles Steger said last week his school was joining the ACC, and formally accepted the offer Monday.

The ACC originally sought to expand to 12 schools so it could offer a lucrative conference title game in football. While the league plans to seek another school, it also could ask the NCAA to change the 12-member requirement.

Officials from several Big East schools tried to persuade the Hurricanes to stay. The Miami officials were studying a counterproposal from Big East members, who had previously guaranteed the Hurricanes $45 million over five years to stay.

The counteroffer was led by Boston College and Syracuse, the other two schools the ACC originally targeted in its 12-team scenario. But those institutions were told last week they would not receive invitations.

Shalala and athletic director Paul Dee didn't make their decision until Monday morning, just hours before a news conference to announce it. Shalala then called Barker to tell him.

The Big East's financial guarantee was "a lot'' higher than the ACC's, Shalala said. Still, it wasn't enough.

"You're really betting on the future in terms of the ACC,'' she said.

Miami's decision ensures the legal battle over the ACC's expansion will continue.

A lawsuit against the ACC and Miami contends Big East members Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh have spent millions on their football programs based on presumed loyalty from schools it had been aligned with, including the Hurricanes.

On Monday, a judge in Connecticut, where the lawsuit was filed, denied a request by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to speed up the case. Blumenthal had asked the judge to order several key people, including Shalala, to give depositions or sworn testimony as early as Tuesday. Instead, the judge began a two-week vacation.

Virginia Tech was removed as a plaintiff in the case after being invited to join the ACC. Miami and the ACC remain defendants, accused of participating in a conspiracy intended to weaken the Big East.

"We will continue vigorously to protect the Big East in the courts of Connecticut,'' said Jeffrey Mishkin, the lead counsel for the Big East plaintiffs. "The ACC's 50th anniversary will now be marked with depositions and document discovery exposing the ACC's predatory conduct and Miami's conspiratorial actions.''

NCAA president Myles Brand said Monday he was "disappointed the issue has been as disagreeable as it has been.''

"The integrity of intercollegiate athletics demands that we handle conference alignments and related matters in the future in a better way,'' Brand said.

Miami has won six of the 12 Big East football championships; Virginia Tech has three. Miami has the best all-time record in Big East play (66-10), followed by Virginia Tech (53-23), which is percentage points ahead of Syracuse (56-26).

In the last three seasons, Miami has the best record among all Division I-A football programs, 35-2. Virginia Tech (29-9) is tied for eighth on that list.

Since the inception of the Big East's football conference in 1991, Miami is the only school to have won a national championship. The Hurricanes won titles in 1991 and 2001, and played for the crown after last season, losing to Ohio State.

Virginia Tech also played for the national championship after the 1999 season, losing to Florida State.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the addition of Miami and Virginia Tech makes his conference perhaps "stronger than at any point in its history.''

Miami joined the Big East in October 1990, five months before the league's football conference was formed. The Big East had long been best known as a basketball conference, especially after the success Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova enjoyed during the 1980s.

The Big East's original attraction to Miami was mainly linked to its football successes: The Hurricanes had had won three football national titles in the eight years before their acceptance into the conference.

"Our future was at stake,'' Tranghese said Oct. 10, 1990, the day Miami's trustees voted unanimously to join the Big East. "If the Big East and the University of Miami could not have gotten together, I'm not certain we had an answer that would have satisfied the football concerns of Pitt, Boston College and Syracuse.''

Now, as Miami has staked its future in the ACC, the Big East's future may be at stake again.

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