Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Sports: ACC Bows to Virginia Pressure

The Atlantic Coast Conference's expansion plans become more unpredictable each day. Now comes word of yet another new configuration:
After 11/2 months of deliberations, discussions and telephone meetings, the Atlantic Coast Conference stunned nearly everyone last night, extending invitations to Virginia Tech and Miami, according to a source close to the situation. Boston College and Syracuse -- Big East schools that had gone through a formal process to receive invitations -- were not included, the source said.

"It's all new," said a league source, shocked that a proposal that had never been mentioned previously emerged during last night's two-hour conference call among ACC university presidents.

Last night's conference call was one of the closing chapters in a lengthy saga and marked a 180-degree reversal for Virginia Tech. Even last night, according to a university spokesman, Virginia Tech had yet to learn of its invitation from the ACC. And Virginia Tech remains a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by five Big East schools against the ACC, Miami and Boston College in an attempt to stop expansion, which is scheduled to occur for the 2004-05 season.
So insted of a 12-school, two-division ACC, it now looks like there will be an oddly shaped 11-school conference designed, essentially, to placate Virginia politicians who have pressured the government-run University of Virginia to vote against any expansion that left out Virginia Tech.

This new proposal still leaves the problem of Connecticut's snarling attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, who vows to continue pursuing his state's lawsuit against Miami and the ACC should even one team leave the Big East. Of course, Blumenthal could quickly find himself without allies, as other Big East members are far less likely to continue the litigation if only Miami and Virginia Tech—neither a charter member of the Big East—were to leave. Big East officials are already reported to be eyeing replacements for the schools, a list that includes Louisville, Marquette, and even Xavier.

This is actually a tough situation. On the one hand, Blumenthal is legally obligated to defend the University of Connecticut's interests, and even the departure of Miami alone could have profound financial implications for UConn's rising football program. And when you take out all the idiotic fluff in Blumenthal's lawsuit—such as the antitrust claim—there is one potentially damning charge: Miami President Donna Shalala's continuing status as the Big East's representative to the Bowl Championship Series, the alliance which governs major college football's postseason:
"In addition, in 2002, during the same meeting in which she emphatically committed to Plaintiffs in the strongest terms possible that Miami was committed to the Big East, President Shalala was appointed as the Big East's presidential representative in the BCS. In this position, which she holds to this day and has never resigned, President Shalala receives critical information and acts on behalf of Big East members and is charged to look out for their interests vis a vis other conferences in this vital aspect of the Big East's participation in major college football.
If Shalala was speaking with ACC officials in secret prior to the public announcement of that conference's expansion plans, and she was simultaneously charged with protecting the Big East's BCS interests, there is undoubtedly a conflict of interests, and possibly a tort against the Big East.

Such a claim, if proven, would justify monetary damages against Shalala and Miami, maybe even the ACC, but it does not in my mind justify the relief Blumenthal is ultimately seeking--an injunction preventing Miami or any other Big East school from leaving the conference. Miami still has a right to choose its conference affiliation provided it complies with the Big East's rules for leaving, which only require a monetary payment to the other schools, something Miami has always been prepared to do.

It also can't be ignored that while Blumenthal has to protect UConn's interests, the Connecticut attorney general's overall record as an anti-capitalist regulator can't simply be overlooked. Barely a day goes by where Blumenthal doesn't deliberately attack some company's property rights--such as his recently filed antitrust suit against Oracle--and the attorney general has made it quite clear he believes the free market should give way to an economic system governed by 'enlightened' elites such as himself. For this reason, absent more direct damning evidence aganist Miami, I'm inclined to side with Shalala and the ACC against a known thug like Blumenthal.

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