If someone were to build a roller coaster, he or she should model it after the ride the Big East has been on for the past five months. Starting in April with talk that the Atlantic Coast Conference was courting members of the Big East, it appeared that the landscape of college sports was going to change. Now that the dust has settled, the Big East and the ACC have both sharpened their competitive edges – although in different ways and at other conferences’ expense.

The ACC sparked the changes by toying with the idea of inviting teams to join its nine-team conference. NCAA rules stipulate that a conference must have 12 teams in order to host a conference title football game. These title games bring in enormous amounts of revenue from ticket sales and, more importantly, television contracts.

After an inter-conference debate in which Duke and North Carolina voted against expansion and the University of Virginia raised objections to Syracuse and Boston College, a compromise was reached. In the final week of June, the ACC extended invitations to the University of Miami and Virginia Tech, both members of the Big East.

Virginia Tech was invited because of pressure from the University of Virginia, which was eager to begin a rivalry with an in-state school. Tech quickly accepted the invitation and plans to start ACC play in the 2004-2005 season. The move will become official on July 1, 2004, according to Athletic Director Jim Weaver.

The Hokies are willing to pay the $1 million exit fee required by the Big East. Miami took a little longer in deliberation, but also decided to join the ACC. The delay in informing the Big East of its decision will cost Miami an additional $1 million, bringing its exit fee to $2 million.

For a while, it seemed that changes in the Big East were over, but it became increasingly clear to the ACC that the NCAA would not make an exception and allow the 11-team league to hold a conference title game. The ACC again turned its attention to Boston College and made an offer on Oct. 14. The offer was accepted within hours, giving the ACC the rights to hold the lucrative title game and leaving the Big East with an even larger hole to fill.

Boston College’s exit fee is still to be determined. After the departures of Miami and Virginia Tech, the Big East increased its exit fee to $5 million. BC officials have contested this ruling, and the matter has been sent to court. The University of Connecticut also began lawsuits against both Boston College and iami, charging conspiracy to weaken the Big East.

Each school that decided to jump the Big East ship did so for its own reasons, even because of location.

“If you look at the geographic footprint of the ACC, this makes all the sense in the world because of travel costs and student welfare,” Weaver said. Virginia Tech, located in Blacksburg, Va., is about four hours south of Georgetown and one of the Hoyas’ closest opponents in the Big East. Weaver went on to point out that Tech teams frequently have to fly to opponents’ schools, but they will be able to use buses to visit many of the schools in the ACC.

Boston College, however, cannot make the same geographic claim, but University President William P. Leahy, S.J., did not see travel cost as an important factor. In an interview conducted two days after the decision was made public, he said that travel costs will be about the same after the move, since the Big East was looking to add teams from as far west as Chicago. Fr. Leahy also said that he thought that the ACC was a better fit for Boston College, both in terms of academics and the financial windfall it would bring to his university.

There is no question that the realignment will increase revenues in the ACC, and administrators at Boston College felt that the ACC was a more stable conference than the Big East. After the conference was rearranged, no one denied that the future of the Big East was on shaky ground at best.

But the conference-switching was far from over.

On Nov. 4, Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese announced that the conference would add five schools starting in the 2005-2006 season: Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida.

All five of the schools are currently members of Conference USA, which is now looking to the Western Athletic Conference and the idwest Athletic Conference to fill its holes.

The addition of these five teams vastly expands the Big East territory, as the conference moves into the Midwest. More importantly, it makes the Big East a dominant basketball conference in college sports. With perennial powerhouses such as UConn and Syracuse being joined by recently successful Marquette and Cincinnati, the Big East has again become a legitimate hoops league.

There is already some talk that Big East schools could see as many eight bids to the NCAA tournament. In past years, six was thought to be an excessive number for one conference. If that occurs, teams in other conferences may cry foul, giving the selection committee an even bigger headache than usual.

Most of the attention surrounding the conference moves has been focused on the “money sports” of football and basketball, but the added teams will affect all sports in terms of opponents and caliber of play.

Georgetown Assistant Athletic Director Dwight Datcher pointed out that the academic standards at the new institutions give their athletic programs a larger recruiting pool than Georgetown currently enjoys.

“If you don’t have at least a 1200 on your SATs, you are not even considered for athletic admission [at Georgetown],” Datcher said. The Hoyas will now be playing teams where that is not necessarily the case.

Overall, however, the current members of the Big East are viewing the additions as a positive step. And the excitement is not just caused by football and basketball. Rutgers assistant volleyball coach Craig Dyer voiced his opinion on the matter: “I think this is great for volleyball, minus the traveling and added costs. We’re gaining two legitimate top-25 teams in Cincinnati and Louisville,” he said. Dyer added that the Southeastern Conference and ACC have long been volleyball powerhouses, but that the Big East should be able to challenge them with the new additions.

Dyer also pointed out that the increased caliber of opponents and strong reputations would only help recruiting within the Big East, since the conference has joined the upper echelon of college sports.

It seems that all the confusion of the summer has ended with a positive resolution for everyone involved. While there are still court issues pending, as Weaver said back in October, “whatever backlash there will be, or was, has passed.”

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