Corrigan on cutting edge as ACC flexes its growing muscles

September 18, 1990|By Charles Chandler | Charles Chandler,Knight-Ridder

RALEIGH, N.C. -- When Gene Corrigan became the Atlantic Coast Conference's commissioner three years ago, it had a reputation of being an "old boys' league," strong on tradition but not progressive. He changed that in a hurry.

First, he struck a unique deal that sent the ACC football champion to the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando at least once every two years, assuring the conference of New Year's Day exposure. Next came the ACC-Big East basketball challenge series.

The biggest move of all came last week when ACC officials responded to a recommendation from the Baltimore native and voted to expand the league by adding Florida State University.

"We're making history," Corrigan said.

Symbolic of the new ACC -- Corrigan's ACC -- is the plush conference headquarters, which were opened in 1989, and the service bureau's new computer system.

"Gene is the right man at the right time for this conference," said Wake Forest athletic director Gene Hooks.

"Gene is a combination of a traditionalist and a visionary," said John Swofford, North Carolina's athletic director. "That's sort of the best of both worlds. He has a great respect for tradition, but at the same time he's able to couple that with a vision for the future. Truly outstanding leaders do that."

It has been said that perhaps no one has had as much power in the ACC as Corrigan does now. He is involved in virtually every aspect of the league's operations and doesn't appear afraid to move boldly.

When he was dissatisfied two years ago with the television announcers the Jefferson-Pilot sports network hired for the ACC's football broadcasts, he personally reviewed videotapes of candidates and helped choose the replacements.

Because of his influence nationally, he has played an active role in finding bowl games for the ACC's eligible football teams and has aided behind the scenes during recent coaching vacancies in the revenue sports, football and basketball.

"Some of that involvement is simply related to people's respect for Gene," Swofford said. "He does seem more involved than others, but I would expect you would find in every instance that the only reason is because someone has asked his advice.

"Gene doesn't operate as a dictator. That's not his style. He constantly remembers he works for eight institutions, and now there's nine."

The ninth, Florida State, was added a week after Corrigan toured the conference, recommending the move to administrators at each stop.

"I was an advocate for it, but it was going to be their decision ultimately, not mine," Corrigan said. "When the time came to make the actual decision, I said very little."

Florida State's joining the ACC was the latest -- and probably not last -- in a series of alignment changes across the country brought on by questions about future national television contracts.

"The power of television -- forget the dollars -- is awesome," Corrigan said. "I really believe television has played a great role in our success in basketball. We were the first ones out there with a syndicated package, and look where we are.

"Even with us having our own syndicated package now in football, are players staying home to play in ACC rather than leaving? We still aren't getting our share of the national pie. I think Florida State helps us with that."

Corrigan said Florida State's clout should give the ACC more influence in the national reform movement in college athletics, with which he has been actively involved.

Conference officials also say it opens up the state of Florida to the ACC and brings in a school with high academic standards.

"I don't know whether this will bring us any more money at all, and I told people not to vote on it because you think it'll be a pot of gold," Corrigan said.

"What we needed to do was to be sure that our conference remains in a strong and respected position. To my way of thinking, Florida State makes us even stronger and gives us more leverage."

Corrigan said he doesn't expect adding the Seminoles to change the ACC much. And he'll wait at least two weeks before he begins talks on the possibility of adding a 10th member.

He and his wife, Lena, were scheduled to leave Monday for Rome, where they will visit her uncle, Emilio Natale, for the first time in 15 years.

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