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League leaders not on top of their game

Let's see if we've got this right. Miami is suing the Big East and some of its members. Boston College is suing the Big East. An assortment of Big East members is suing Miami. Virginia Tech and Miami are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. BC is ready to defect next season if pending litigation and other issues can be settled. Schools from Conference USA, including Cincinnati, Louisville, DePaul, and Marquette, will make the jump to the Big East next week. So will South Florida, and, perhaps down the road, Central Florida.

That's not all that's happening. Rice, Tulsa, and Southern Methodist are ready to leave the Western Athletic Conference for Conference USA. And Sunbelt Conference members Idaho, Utah State, and New Mexico State are ready to shift to the WAC.

Welcome to college football in the fall of 2003, where some of the most interesting races are taking place off the field.

Some of it makes sense. Rice and SMU are joining the same league as Texas Christian and Houston for a downsized version of the old Southwest Conference where some natural rivals can be revived. That can't be all bad.

But most of what is happening doesn't make sense and shouldn't have happened. Why? Greed, pure and simple. Greed by the people in the ACC who started all of this over the summer with their successful courting of Miami and Virginia Tech, and two weeks ago, BC.

John Casteen, the Virginia president, put the ACC's spin on it last week at the conference's official welcoming party for BC.

"It has not been an easy process," said Casteen, understating the issue somewhat, who then said the move secured the future of the ACC.

But that begs a larger question. Who was threatening the ACC and its future? It had nine members, each making money. It has a reputation as a great basketball conference, with Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia; the academic foundation was as strong as any in collegiate athletics; and the football reputation was growing in stature each year, spearheaded by Florida State's perennial presence in the Top 10.

Where was the threat? From the Sunbelt Conference? From the Big East? From Conference USA? The ACC was the East Coast's version of the Pac-10 -- a great conference with a nice geographic fit to it.

Again, no one was threatening the ACC's future. None of its schools was losing money or in danger of losing money.

But ACC officials wanted more, specifically a conference championship game in football. The conference wanted a possible second BCS spot, which the ACC thought it had a better chance of acquiring if a watered down Big East lost its guaranteed spot.

So, led by Georgia Tech and Florida State, the ACC went on a mission they said was for survival but had search-and-destroy characteristics.

The ACC is hardly the only guilty party. Shame on Miami, BC, and the other Big East schools for resorting to litigation. Folks, it's over. Time to get over it. Move on, make the best of the situation, and start acting like educators instead of children.

Miami is mad because some harsh words were levied at the Hurricanes. Isn't that too bad. The people in Coral Gables obviously have short memories because it was the Big East that provided a safe haven for the basketball program when no one else wanted to touch the Hurricanes.

Yes, the Big East benefited from the Hurricanes' success in football, but the league paid for that privilege by allowing the Hurricanes to keep all of its bowl money for the first few years Miami was a conference member. The Big East also stuck with the Hurricanes when the NCAA penalized the program for assorted violations.

BC is mad because the Big East is mad and some harsh words -- even at the presidential level -- were thrown back at them. The people in Connecticut are again trying to make the Eagles the bad guys. So the Eagles respond with their own litigation and BC president Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., saying the lawyers will work it out.

That, too, is sad because it shouldn't come to that. Leaders, not lawyers, are necessary here. Let the lawyers work it out is not the message you want to hear from a university president when he is talking about problems involving his school.

BC's stance that it would have been less likely to leave the Big East if the conference had split into an eight- or nine-team football league and an eight- or nine-team league in basketball makes sense in some regards.

But it didn't happen.

And now it has come to this.

Lawsuits and conferences raiding other conferences for survival as well as greed. There's verbal insults being flashed across the Internet among leaders who have been hired to teach life lessons so student-athletes can better cope in the adult world.

Nice lessons. Maybe at Florida State or Georgia Tech's commencement ceremonies next spring, Michael Douglas should be brought in, recreating his Gordon Gekko character from "Wall Street." Gekko's motto? "Greed is good. Greed works." Who is going to explain to the bottom of the food chain Sun Belt Conference that what the ACC started was good for college athletics when the Sun Belt could lose as many as five members, which may force the conference to look to the 1-AA level for teams. Florida A&M? UMass?

Maybe it will all work out in the end. But, as Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim said: "Be careful of what you wish for. You may get it and you may not like it."

And the chances are that this will work out because it simply has to work out. What other choices are there? With that in mind, it is time for everyone to overcome their anger. Tell the lawyers to step aside for a minute. Let the educators work it out. And let them do it now. Not next year or in 2005 or 2006. Having lame-duck schools throughout the country serves nobody's best interest.

Exit fees

Do you think there is a hidden power when you see what happened to BC in Syracuse last week (a 39-14 Orangemen rout) and what happened to Virginia Tech in Morgantown, W.Va., Wednesday night (a 28-7 Mountaineer upset)? Leaving the Big East can be a painful experience . . . With Virginia Tech's loss, the people at Georgia, Florida State, Ohio State, and Southern Cal are now hoping the Hokies can rebound and beat Miami next week in Blacksburg, Va. A win would then put all of those schools in better position. All of those schools trail the Hokies in the current BCS standings . . . North Carolina State faces a Duke team tomorrow that has lost 29 straight ACC games and just fired coach Carl Franks. Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato says he is concerned. "Sooner or later they're going to beat somebody in the ACC," said Amato. "There is no doubt." Well, at 0-29 and counting there is some doubt . . . ABC is talking to the ACC about broadcasting its conference championship game, but until the ACC knows what year that game can first be played, the talks cannot be more than talks.

Material from personal interviews and wire services was used in this report.

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