|Monday, August 11
ACC, Big East lost in expansion
By Gregg Doyel
Special to ESPN.com
Fair play and equality had nothing to do with the football side of the ACC's corporate-style raid of the Big East, a move that clearly strengthened ACC football while devastating the Big East. But on the basketball side of things, the ACC's glomming of Miami and Virginia Tech reeked of equality.
See how fair that was?
When the switch goes into effect for the 2004-05 season, the Big East will be without its two biggest patsies. Where are Georgetown, Boston College, Villanova, Seton Hall and St. John's -- NCAA Tournament hopefuls who have taken up an annual residence at One Bubble Place -- going to pick up those two or three relatively easy conference victories once Miami and Virginia Tech are gone?
And as for the ACC, yes, we're about to have it both ways. Marie Antoinette was right -- you can have your cake and eat it, too. Because this expansion was all about football, ACC basketball teams are being forced to digest two of the worst major Division I programs on the East Coast.
Unlike the Big East, the ACC doesn't need any more patsies. That's why God created Clemson and Florida State (e-mail address listed below).
For years the ACC has thrived at nine teams because, unlike top-heavy leagues like the Big East (may it rest in peace) and Conference USA, it was powerful and compact, like a fist. With 11 teams -- based on the identity of No. 10 and No. 11 -- the ACC will be bloated, watered down. More like everyone else, in other words.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski hated the idea of expansion initially, then in May said his concerns had been allayed somewhat by assurances from commissioner John Swofford that the best interests of ACC basketball would be considered. In other words, Krzyzewski had to be convinced that expansion was a good thing at a time the league thought it would get the defending national champion, Syracuse.
Imagine his chagrin to discover the ACC was adding Miami and (gulp) Virginia Tech. Those teams have produced three of the five worst Big East records in the past 11 years, with Miami going 0-18 (1994) and 1-17 ('92) and Virginia Tech contributing a 2-14 mark (2001). Last season the Hurricanes and Hokies tied for last in the East Division at 4-12, and shared the league's lowest overall victory total with 11 apiece.
And these are the teams going to ACC basketball?
"I think our conference has to rank as, if not the classiest, right there with anybody," Krzyzewski said a week before the ACC introduced the Hurricanes and Hokies. "A lot of that has to do with the early success of football in the conference, but overall I think the league has been what basketball has done. I think there was no analysis of basketball in this."
Until and unless second-year coach Leonard Hamilton gets Florida State to respectability and newcomer Oliver Purnell does the same for Clemson, the ACC's NCAA hopefuls will have at least four RPI-killing conference teams to contend with in an era when RPI, no matter what the NCAA Tournament selection committee says, is everything.
The ACC's RPI isn't the only thing likely to take a beating from this expansion. Another loser, by knockout, is the relationship between Swofford and the Big East's Mike Tranghese, two of the most influential commissioners in college athletics.
Tranghese issued two of the more memorable sound bites during the ACC's expansion process, telling the New York Daily News that the ACC was "a bunch of hypocrites (who) operate in the dark" and later saying the ACC's raid of the Big East was "the most disastrous blow to intercollegiate sports in my lifetime." Swofford was galled by those comments.
"When you go through something like this, people have a difference of opinions," Swofford said. "To express them in that way, it's disappointing. We've worked together a long time, and we will again."
Tranghese apologized twice, by letter and phone call, Swofford said, but the hurt lingers.
"There's probably some damage there," Tranghese told reporters during the Big East football kickoff. "And I don't know if it will be overcome or not."
Well, they might not have to deal with each other for much longer. Tranghese says he will resign if the Big East splits in half -- the football schools going one way and the basketball schools another.
"That's the first question that has to be answered," Tranghese said of the conference's future format. "We can't move forward until we answer that question."
That decision will be made after the 2004-05 season, one year after Miami and Virginia Tech depart, meaning the Big East's final year of existence could produce a historically low number of NCAA Tournament entrants.
Gregg Doyel covers college basketball for The Charlotte Observer and is a regular contributor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.