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ACC votes to expand

The Atlantic Coast Conference inched closer toward expansion Tuesday when its presidents voted to expand the conference from nine to 12 teams, clearing the way for Miami to join the league if it chooses.

The framework for expansion has been laid, and Miami should receive an official invitation from the conference in the coming days. But before the Hurricanes opt to leave the Big East Conference, the conference the Hurricanes have called home for 13 years, Miami athletic director Paul Dee said a number of lingering issues regarding money, which Big East teams join Miami in the ACC, the proposed six-team divisions and scheduling issues need to be worked out to Miami’s satisfaction.

University of Miami President Donna Shalala will ultimately make the decision on Miami’s expansion stance once an invitation is extended. Dee said the outcome of certain pertinent issues and the comparison of the financial ramifications for UM will likely impact her answer. Shalala’s preferences are not known, but Dee said she “keeps an open mind.”

What is known is UM officials will undergo the process at a pace they are comfortable with. When Dee was asked if he needed to know where Miami stood headed into the Big East’s annual spring meeting coming up this weekend in Ponte Vedra, he said no.

“In fact, I don’t know if we would accept (an invitation) if it comes because we have issues with our friends in the Big East that we need to get through,” Dee said. “We have issues we need to resolve if we were to consider moving, looking at financial structures, looking at organizational structures, looking at how the divisions would be worked out. The only thing that’s been determined at this point is the concept.”

According to sources familiar with the situation, the decision on the other two teams to join the league was left open-ended. But it could be finalized with another vote in the early part of next week.

The expansion passed 7-2. North Carolina and Duke were the dissenting votes.

The schools originally thought to be in the three-team package were Miami, Syracuse and Boston College, which are all Big East schools.

Virginia’s administration has been under heavy political pressure to protect the Hokies’ interest. Virginia’s primary interest was to get Virginia Tech included in the deal. The Cavaliers weren’t as concerned with which team was left out.

A three-hour debate ensued. Even Notre Dame became part of the discussion as a possible invitee. When no consensus could be reached, the issue was tabled with Fox and Clough appointed to discuss the matter with Shalala.

For Miami, the absence of Boston College would be a deal breaker sources say.

If it becomes apparent the absence of Syracuse is a deal breaker for the ACC presidents, Shalala, according to sources at UM, might be willing to listen to arguments for Virginia Tech. It should be pointed out that Syracuse’s chancellor, Buzz Shaw, was the chancellor of Wisconsin’s university system when Shalala was the school’s president.

Although nothing is firm, the earliest projected date for an expanded ACC in operation is 2004. But it’s more likely to happen in 2005 or 2006 when the league’s new television contract and the new Bowl Championship Series contract would go into effect. What would happen to the Hurricanes until then is unclear.

In order to withdraw from the Big East for the 2004-05 season, a team would have to notify the league by June 30 and pay a sum that has been reported around $1 million. After that date the figure increases significantly for withdrawal unless a team’s exit would come after 2004.

The ACC, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, hasn’t expanded since 1991 when Florida State was added. But expansion is presently being pushed to secure the league’s position in the ever-changing landscape of college athletics, which many speculate will undergo a significant shift in 2006 when the BCS agreement is redone.