GREENSBORO, N.C. - For the moment, fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference can put away their pencils and erasers and quit drawing up - and dreaming up - divisions for the expanded conference.
ACC commissioner John Swofford said last night that there are no immediate plans for the league to separate into divisions now that Miami and Virginia Tech have been added to give the conference 11 members, starting in the 2004-05 academic year. The ACC will use the scheduling format of the Big Ten (which has had 11 members since Penn State joined the league in 1993) as a model, perhaps with some minor adjustments.
"We will be operating as an 11-team league without divisions," Swofford said at the news conference to welcome Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC, "and we will start from there."
Swofford said the ACC will do its best in that format to preserve traditional rivalries, but has yet to work out all the details of its scheduling format. Swofford admitted that it might be necessary to split the league into divisions - perhaps only for football - if the NCAA agrees to allow conferences with fewer than 12 members to hold football championship games.
Georgia Tech president G. Wayne Clough, who is a member of the NCAA board of directors, said the ACC will recommend a change to the rule that requires 12 members for any conference to hold a football title game.
If that happens, Swofford said, he's not sure how the ACC will be split.
Last night's welcoming of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC mixed praise for the improvements the newcomers will bring in football with fuzzy explanations for the mistakes in an awkward expansion process.
John Rocovich, the rector of Virginia Tech's board of visitors, explained the turnabout of his school's position on expansion. When it appeared that the ACC was going to leave Virginia Tech out of the expansion process, the school joined other Big East members and sued the ACC.
When the ACC abruptly changed its mind and extended an invitation to Virginia Tech, the school withdrew from the lawsuit and accepted wholeheartedly.
"Although circumstances have been changed, our mission has remained constant - to look out for the best interests of our university," Rocovich said.
Miami athletic director Paul Dee talked about the difficulty in leaving behind its former partners in the Big East. Boston College and Syracuse were considered for expansion, but never received the seven necessary votes out of the nine ACC presidents to be added.
Swofford also expressed some regrets. He said ACC officials worked too often by conference call and might have been able to better smooth over some of their differences face to face.
He also had sympathy for Boston College and Syracuse, which received visits but no invitations from the ACC. "That part of the process very candidly didn't treat a couple of schools fairly and didn't treat our own league fairly," Swofford said.
ACC officials will spend the immediate future trying to find fair and equitable ways to schedule an 11-team league while preserving rivalries. Once Miami and Virginia Tech enter the ACC in 2004, Swofford said, it won't be possible for all of the conference's basketball teams to play home-and-home.
The ACC basketball tournament format also must be changed. Swofford said the ACC likely now will play three games instead of one on Thursday in the tournament, with quarterfinals to be played Friday and the rest of the tournament schedule remaining intact.
Of course, the conference also will continue to consider adding a 12th member, creating an easier way to split into divisions.
"We obviously looked very hard at the possibility of going to 12, and I think there's a sentiment do that, there's a certain logic to it," Clough said.
Clough said there are no teleconferences scheduled to discuss further expansion at the moment. Swofford said conference officials haven't even determined yet how many votes would be needed for expansion to take place.