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BC accepts an invitation to join the ACC

Jilted at the altar in June following a formal invitation process that was as protracted as it was painstaking, Boston College will depart the Big East and walk down the aisle with the Atlantic Coast Conference after all.

Yesterday, BC president Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., announced his school accepted a formal invitation to join the ACC after the league's Council of Presidents voted unanimously to welcome the Eagles into the fold as its 12th team. BC will become the first charter member of the Big East to defect to the ACC, joining Miami and Virginia Tech.

"Our decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference is based, on my judgment, in terms of what is in the best interests of Boston College academically, athletically, and financially," Leahy said yesterday afternoon during a news conference at Conte Forum.

Speaking to reporters outside the ACC's offices in Greensboro, N.C., commissioner John Swofford said, "This just adds one more excellent school to what now will be a 12-member mix. If you look at their graduation rates, BC will jump right into the higher echelon of our conference. They bring a lot on both fronts [athletically and academically]."

While Leahy indicated no timetable had yet been set for BC's transition into the ACC, pending the school's compliance with the Big East's bylaws for withdrawal, league and school sources indicated the move would take effect in 2005.

"There's a lot to think about," said BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo. "We have to think about all the other Big East schools as well and what does it do to them and what predicaments does it cause. You know, is the ACC ready for us next year? And all that. There's a lot that needs to be considered."

Asked if a move to the ACC in 2005 made more sense, DeFilippo said, "There's a lot of merit to doing that and we'll see how it goes."

If the Eagles departed next season, it would leave the Big East in a serious lurch with just five teams -- Connecticut, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and Syracuse. Still, BC's departure no doubt comes as a crippling blow to the Big East and its attempt to retain its status as a Bowl Championship Series conference.

While Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese said he was "extremely disappointed with Boston College's decision to leave," BC faces a serious backlash from other conference precincts.

"We've spent the better part of three months planning a new configuration for the Big East," said Syracuse chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw. "Boston College has been involved in this planning process. We are terribly disappointed that BC would leave at this time."

Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel, whose football team will host BC Saturday at the Carrier Dome, said he was "personally offended" by the ACC's actions.

"As for Boston College, also an original member of the Big East, I am disappointed," he said. "Three months ago, the presidents, chancellors, and athletic directors of the six remaining Big East football schools sat face-to-face and pledged their loyalty to one another and to the Big East. I guess handshakes don't mean much anymore."

Although originally named as a defendant along with the ACC and Miami in a joint lawsuit brought by the remaining Big East schools, BC was later dropped from the suit after it was rejected by the ACC in June. Yesterday, however, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal suggested BC could be renamed as a defendant. The suit against the ACC was dismissed last Friday by a Connecticut superior court, leaving Miami as the sole defendant.

"From the start, we presented evidence of a conspiracy among Miami, BC, and the ACC to destroy the Big East," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Today, the coconspirators carried out their predatory scheme, and now that their conspiracy is out in the open for the world to see, the Big East's legal claims are more compelling than ever."

Leahy said the threat of litigation would not deter BC from proceeding. "We've never made our decisions on the basis on the threat of lawsuits and what lawsuits are in the process," he said. "We just let the lawyers take care of that. It hasn't been a factor in our decision-making prior to this and it isn't a factor now."

One of the pressing matters BC faces is the exit fee. In accordance with conference bylaws, Miami and Virginia Tech paid $1 million fees to depart the league, effective 2004. But in a meeting last month in Newark, N.J., the league's presidents took measures to stiffen the penalty, agreeing to a $5 million withdrawal fee and a minimum advance notice of 27 months.

Leahy indicated BC endorsed the increased withdrawal penalty and would be prepared to pay it, but did not believe the ACC should bear any responsibility for a potential added cost of $4 million.

"I think Boston College will fulfill the responsibilities of the withdrawal," Leahy said.

BC's decision to depart the Big East came some four months after Swofford led a conference entourage on a formal site visit and declared the Jesuit school "a perfect fit" only to have his league's presidents reject BC by a 6-3 vote, one shy needed for acceptance.

The ACC, in a stunning reversal, opted to expand to 11 teams by inviting Miami and Virginia Tech, leaving the conference one team shy of eligibility to host a lucrative championship football game, one that would generate between $10 million and $12 million.

"In June, I knew the situation remained unclear to the extent that there wasn't a 12th school," Leahy said, when asked if he expected the ACC to reconsider BC. "But, until a couple of weeks ago, we had no inkling of what was going on in the Atlantic Coast Conference as to where the discussions were going, discussions on running the conference with 11 teams, and what direction the ACC was going in.

"I needed to find out for Boston College's sake what was going on [in the ACC], so I had said I was going to find that out and I was going to make a decision once I found out."

When the NCAA last month denied the ACC in its bid to change the legislation that provides for 12-team football conferences to stage championship games, it opened the door for the ACC to revisit the expansion process and BC, one of three Big East teams it had originally targeted in June along with Miami and Syracuse.

This time, the process was not as protracted, or as painstaking.

Leahy made certain of that, in effect telling the ACC to fish or cut bait.

"What I said to them was, `If you have interest, then we need to know because the Big East is going to reorganize and we have to commit certainly by Nov. 4,' " he said, referring to a planned meeting of the Big East's presidents.

"So time was a real factor and I also said if you want us, you have to give us an invitation, you can't be, `Let's talk' or `We're interested.' It has to be an outright invitation. Otherwise there isn't any value in engaging in conversation."

Asked about the range of emotions he experienced since June, Leahy said, "Well, I'd say in June it was disappointment, then as we began the process of moving forward with the Big East, there was uncertainty, but now that we've reached this point, I'd say we have to be happy with the decision we've made, because I think it puts Boston College in a good place."

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