Originally created 06/30/03

Deadline nears for Miami to make its affiliation decision



MIAMI -- After a seven-week courtship, one unresolved courtroom battle and last-ditch offers from the league that has them and the league that wants them, an answer is finally near to Miami's million-dollar question: Will the Hurricanes stay in the Big East or accept an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference?

Miami president Donna Shalala will divulge the answer Monday, the last day that university officials can buy their way out of the Big East by paying a $1 million penalty. If Miami makes its plans known on Tuesday or later, it would face a $2 million buyout.

Shalala and athletic director Paul Dee are scheduled to make the announcement at an on-campus news conference Monday afternoon. They continued negotiations with both Big East and ACC officials through the weekend.

Virginia Tech, which was a late addition into the expansion saga, has already said it will accept the invitation it received last week to leave the Big East and join the ACC.

Several Miami officials and trustees either declined comment or did not respond to messages left throughout the weekend. Big East spokesman John Paquette said Sunday that Miami has not made its intentions known to conference officials.

"There's nothing that I'm aware of," Paquette said, adding that his conference also has not received formal word from Virginia Tech - which pairs with Miami as the Big East's top football draws and perennial national title contenders - about its future affiliation.

ACC presidents voted May 13 to begin a process where their nine-school league would expand to 12, largely so it could add a conference football championship game, one that would raise $12 million or more annually.

Three days later, they announced their targets - Miami, Boston College and Syracuse. But if Miami declines the formal invitation it received Wednesday, the ACC would end up with none of the schools it originally targeted as expansion candidates.

Boston College and Syracuse were not extended formal invitations - a surprising twist because ACC officials had never before made a site visit to expansion prospects without extending an offer to join the conference.

"We were told by some the site visit was merely a formality," Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo said last week. "Upon conclusion of the site visit in May, we were told Boston College was a perfect fit for the Atlantic Coast Conference."

So, spurned by the ACC, Boston College and Syracuse began leading an effort to keep Miami in the Big East. Miami officials had already received a $45 million, five-year guarantee to stay with their current conference; another proposal, spearheaded by the two schools the ACC declined, arrived in Miami Thursday.

"Since it came from Syracuse and Boston College, we are particularly obligated to give it a thoughtful response," Shalala said.

Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said he has heard nothing about whether Miami intends to join the ACC or accept the counterproposal to remain in the Big East.

"I have not talked to Paul Dee since we left Ponte Vedra," Weaver said Sunday from his home, speaking of the Big East meetings held at the start of the expansion talks.

Shalala was also asked by university trustees Thursday to provide a clear indicator of what a move to an 11-team ACC would mean financially. Without a lucrative football title game, the ACC's projected revenues change dramatically from what Miami officials had originally been told.

Shalala said last week that Miami had made financial projections for a number of different scenarios - but not one where it and Virginia Tech were the lone additions to the ACC.

Whatever Miami announces on Monday, the legal wrangling about the ACC's expansion will likely not be over.

A lawsuit filed in Connecticut contends that Big East members Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh have spent millions on their football programs based on presumed loyalty from the other schools.

Virginia Tech was originally among the plaintiffs; it was removed from the case after its invitation to join the ACC came last week. Boston College and Miami were the original defendants; Miami now is the lone defendant, accused of participating in a conspiracy intended to weaken the Big East.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the lawsuit seeks to "protect the Big East." Shalala said Miami's decision will not, in any way, be based on the lawsuit.