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cONFERENCE CALL

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BC hears from the ACC

Boston College has accepted an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. The invitation, which was tendered Sunday morning October 12 following a unanimous vote of ACC presidents, surprised many. For six weeks last spring, the ACC had considered BC for membership, along with fellow Big East schools the University of Miami and Syracuse University, but in June it had offered places only to Miami and Virginia Tech (see "Southern Exposure," BCM Summer 2003).

In an October 15 interview with the Chronicle, BC's newspaper for faculty and staff, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, said the ACC was "a great fit" for BC--not just in terms of athletic and financial advantages, but also academically and demographically. Leahy noted that five of the ACC's nine members in 2002 share BC's top-40 status in US News & World Report--namely, Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, the University of Virginia, and Georgia Tech. (In the Big East, only Georgetown, which has no football team, is so ranked.) Rounding out the ACC are Clemson, Florida State, the University of Maryland, and North Carolina State.

The ACC leads all Division 1-A conferences in graduating football players. And, Leahy said, it is "committed to a program of academic cooperation" involving faculty and student exchanges and shared library resources, "something not done in the Big East."

Leahy cited the "attractive demographics" of the ACC states as "a great plus for our student recruiting efforts in future years." Research by the Western Interstate Commis- sion for Higher Education indicates that the numbers of high school seniors in North Carolina (home to four ACC schools) and Georgia are expected to grow 10 percent or more over the next decade; Florida and Virginia will see increases of 5 percent or more. In the northeast, all but two states will face a decrease in high school graduates.

For the University's athletics program, the ACC promises "strength and stability," said Leahy. "There are no concerns about [the ACC's] survival, in contrast to the Big East, which every few years has had to deal with questions about its viability." And the financial benefits of ACC membership, which are expected to be significant, will "help us support non-revenue sports at BC, especially for female athletes."

In a separate interview, BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo cited recent successes in men's and women's soccer, field hockey, and women's cross country as evidence that BC will "match up very well with a lot of the teams in the ACC." In sports not offered by the ACC--notably, men's and women's ice hockey, skiing, fencing, sailing--BC teams "will continue to participate in the same leagues and associations that they have in the past," he said.

President Leahy has said BC might still play Big East basketball rivals Providence, St. John's, and Georgetown, and football rival Syracuse, in non-conference games.

The realignment could occur as soon as July 2005. BC will likely pay an exit fee in the range of $1–5 million to the Big East, and Leahy has asked a Massachusetts Superior Court to "clarify provisions in the Big East constitution and bylaws in regard to withdrawal." The funds will be taken from the athletic department's unrestricted endowment. Meanwhile, four Big East schools have sued BC and the ACC and alleged a conspiracy to destroy Big East football. Leahy termed such allegations "groundless," noting that some observers trace them to "politics and political aspirations in the State of Connecticut."

"It is clear," said Leahy, "that the Big East constitution includes an explicit provision allowing schools to leave the conference."

"I know the difficulties conference realignments cause," Leahy told the Chronicle. "But in my judgment, the ACC is a much better fit for Boston College. I believe strongly that this move is necessary and right."

Nicole Estvanik


 

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