It's Show Me The Money Time

Columnist Phillip Marshall is less than impressed with the way the Atlantic Coast Conference has been handling its affairs.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, which likes to consider itself more cultured and refined than most, has shown us all the ugly side of college athletics. It has shown us that, in the offices of the learned men who make decisions, it's not about the athletes at all. It's about politics, but mostly it's about money. Lots and lots of money.

Oh, the ACC has had plenty of help in this hypocritical exercise. How Virginia Tech officials can look themselves in the mirror and call themselves educators is a mystery to me. One day, they are self-righteously joining other Big East members in a lawsuit against Miami and Boston College for having the audacity to consider leaving for the ACC. The next day they are dropping out of the lawsuit and celebrating their own invitation to the club.

Truth is, the ACC didn't want Virginia Tech. But Virginia governor John Warner weighed in and Tech had to be included to get Virginia's vote. Without Virginia's vote, the whole enterprise would have withered and died. Somewhere along the way, Syracuse and Boston College, ready to bolt, lost their expected invitations and will surely never be viewed quite the same by their Big East brethren.

And now Miami is waffling a bit. The other Big East schools have come back begging with a financial offer of their own. The Hurricanes will probably announce Monday they are bolting the Big East, but it's apparently not written in stone. As for Virginia Tech, its football program has been outstanding the past few years, but there is little reason to believe it will be a long-term power. The rest of its athletic program is a wasteland. It does not have strong TV appeal. Virginia Tech is no prize.

As is the case in most decisions made by college athletic officials who fret about money and have their meetings at the nation's glitziest resorts, the athletes themselves are no more than an afterthought in all this. It's about getting your chunk of meat from the golden goose that big-time college athletics has become.

One day, if people don't get their priorities straight, that goose is going to die. While administrators and coaches live large, athletes work remarkably hard for a relative pittance. Membership in the ACC was more lucrative than in any conference in the land last year--yes, more lucrative than the Southeastern Conference or the Big 12. ACC schools got more than $9 million apiece. The SEC and Big 12 divided up more money, but they divided it up more ways.

But the ACC, that supposed bastion of academia, started this expansion move because it wanted to add three teams for a total of 12 and qualify for a lucrative football championship game. Somehow or other, when the wrangling was done, the league presidents invited just Miami and Virginia Tech. That's not enough, under present rules, to stage a championship game.

What the ACC and its co-conspirators have shown us is that their words about college athletics being about education are hollow. The real heroes in college athletics aren't the men who coach and certainly not the coaches' bosses.

The heroes are the athletes who are expected to do what it takes to perform at the highest level on the field or in the arena and at the same time perform in the classroom and be accountable for their actions. While they are doing that, those who are supposed to set an example are playing fast and loose with the millions the athletes earn with their sweat and blood.

It's been a bizarre summer. Three coaches have lost their jobs because of shenanigans away from the office. And now comes this bitter dispute spawned by the ACC's attempted hostile takeover of the Big East. Certainly, any school has a right to align itself with the conference of its choosing, as long as contractual obligations are met. If Miami wants to play in the ACC, so be it. But the conference and the school should quit pretending it is for noble reasons. It's for money. It'll be nice to get back to what it all should be about--young men and women competing with dedication and determination.

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