CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- THE UNIVERSITY of Miami is emerging from a cloud of conference expansion talk as the key player in a possible major television alliance that could lead to a change in the face of college football.
Miami officials said yesterday that they are narrowing their focus on expansion to the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference. Where Miami aligns will likely shape a new and major television package that could stretch coast-to-coast and capture a whopping 45 percent or so of the nation's television market. More on that later.
Big East sources say they have agreed to expand, and although they haven't officially extended Miami an invitation, there's an understanding. The Big East wants Miami.
"The next step is Miami's," Big East assistant commissioner Chris Plonsky said. "We would like to think we could get an answer before the corn is harvested, so to speak.
"You can assume we are going to do football business. Miami is the linchpin."
Miami is waiting for the ACC. Miami officials know they can join the Big East, but they don't want to commit until the door to the ACC is officially closed. Miami expects to decide by Oct. 16.
The ACC, which expanded to nine members with the addition of Florida State in early September, will consider Miami if three of its current eight member schools support a proposal to add it. A high-ranking ACC source said that's in place. However, six votes are needed to officially accept Miami and "it's probably a 4-4 vote right now." More politicking needs to be done before Miami could be added.
"The door isn't closed," ACC assistant commissioner Tom Mickel said. "I think a number of our schools have an interest in talking to Miami."
ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan's vacation to Italy after the FSU deal was sealed says much about the ACC's priorities on further expansion. But Mickel said Corrigan is to return this weekend and will pursue the matter again.
"He will get in touch with the eight members to see if there's a consensus about talking to Miami," Mickel said. "I think there's enough interest that we will have preliminary discussions."
An ACC source said Miami's key-player role in how expansion will affect future TV packages weighs on the ACC's collective mind. The source said if Miami goes to the Big East, there's a strong likelihood the ACC and Big East would align for TV contract purposes. That deal locks up the Eastern Seaboard and captures about 38 percent of the nation's TV market.
However, the same source said if Miami joins the ACC, a blockbuster deal involving an ACC-Big Ten-Pac-10 alliance has been discussed. That would cover the nation's major markets coast-to-coast and capture about 45 percent of the television audience.
"It would be premature to say that will happen," a high-ranking ACC source said. "It's not premature to say it's being discussed."
The TV source said Miami, an attractive television team, would help give the ACC more leverage for an ACC-Big Ten-Pac-10 deal. The source said this is one of a number of TV possibilities being considered.
Meanwhile, Miami officials are cautious not to offend interested parties. They announced yesterday that they are no longer interested in SEC expansion but need two to three weeks to finalize their conference studies.
"No one within the university has come up with a final recommendation," athletic director Sam Jankovich said.
Still, Jankovich is more convinced Miami must join a conference.
"Remaining as we are is not very appealing," Jankovich said. "I don't know that you could survive."
The basketball-strong Big East is considering expansion to include football to protect its lucrative basketball interests. Its Division I-A football schools, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Boston College, are looking for football affiliations, and conference officials were worried they might defect. It is focusing on adding only Miami as a 10th team.
"Put Miami, Syracuse, BC and Pitt together, and you have a lot of options you didn't have before," Big East official Tom McElroy said. "That situation makes you more attractive and open to other options."
The Big East still is considering a number of football options. It is still unclear how its football alignment would unfold. Options include:
* Adding Miami as a 10th team for all sports and forming a four-team Big East football grouping as a starting point. Crossover games could be played with other conferences as a TV gimmick.
* Adding Miami as a 10th team for all sports and pursuing two to three more Division I-A schools for football only; a separate football conference with such teams as West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Temple and Rutgers coming aboard for football only.
* Adding Miami and two to four other Division I-A programs for all sports to expand to a 12- or 13-team basketball conference and mini (six- or seven-team) football conference.
It is unclear how Miami would share its revenue in the various proposals. That is being worked out.
President Edward Foote met with Jankovich and eight other high-ranking Miami officials yesterday to evaluate options. Foote will recommend a final decision to the 12-member Board of Trustees Executive Committee. It will vote and decide the expansion issue.
"We intend to make our decision no later than Oct. 16, unless something unforeseen happens," Foote said.
Foote explained that the SEC was eliminated as an option partly because Miami's concentration of students and alumni aren't aligned with the Southern schools in the SEC.
"We have more students from outside the state of Florida than inside," Foote said. "A major concentration of our alumni and students are from the northeast quadrant of the country."