UM Coaches, Players Support Move

University of Miami President Donna Shalala and Athletic Director Paul Dee outlined a handful of reasons, including the long-term financial security of the athletic program, as the determining factors behind the school's move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference, during Monday's news conference.

Shalala added that she and Dee analyzed all the proposals from both conferences through the weekend and did not make the decision to accept the ACC's invitation until Monday morning. But whatever criteria were used to reach a decision it appears to have pleased a number of Hurricanes coaches and players.

After racking up 10 conference titles in football and basketball combined during a 12-year affiliation with the Big East, UM is on its way to the ACC where they will form part of a storied basketball league and promising football conference that will likely provide many challenges down the road.

Challenges that Miami coaches and players are anxious to encounter, starting in 2004-05 when the Hurricanes begin play in the ACC.

Said Miami men's basketball coach Perry Clark, who will go from competing in a conference that included 2003 national champion Syracuse to a one that is regularly recognized as the most balanced in the nation: "You know, we're going from a great situation in the Big East to a great situation in the ACC. There is no question that schools like Syracuse and Connecticut have built a tradition in basketball. So we now what its like to face first rate competition. But it'll definitely be exciting to go play in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, N.C."

But Clark is aware of the task facing the Hurricanes.

Clark, a native of Hyattsville, Maryland who served as an assistant coach at Georgia Tech from 1982-88, noted that basketball teams in the ACC have a history of recruiting centers in the 6-11 to 6-10 range that can score as opposed to the smaller players that play the same position in other conferences, including the Big East.

Miami, who was 11-17 last season and was eliminated from the first round of the Big East Championships, played last year with just one 6-10 player in Darius Rice. But despite his size Rice is still considered a perimeter player that needs to improve his effectiveness in the paint. Miami will head into next season with only one of their remaining experienced front men on the roster. Gary Hamilton, a 6-9 forward, will return for his sophomore season, while Rafael Berumen has graduated.

Forward/center Rodrigue Djahue, 6-7, and 6-8 William Frisby are also expected back, while 6-10 incoming freshman Leonard Harden is expected to have an immediate impact.

"I don't think there is a team in the ACC that doesn't have the luxury of a big man," says Clark, who is 51-38 in three seasons at UM. "But when the time comes we'll just have to make adjustments. We do have some athletic guys, but we need to get some size to go with them."

The men's basketball schedule will also have a different look with the likes of Duke, Maryland. Wake Forest, North Carolina and North Carolina State, among others, replacing Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Boston College. With an ACC schedule that appears to be strenuous from top to bottom the program might not be inclined to set up games against lesser non-conference opponents.

Miami compiled a 7-5 non-conference record last season in men's basketball, including victories over North Carolina, Lehigh, Central Florida, New Hampshire, Savannah State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Hurricanes lost to Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Florida and Charlotte.

Last season the nine-team ACC division had a conference record of 72-72 in men's basketball with Wake Forest leading the way at 13-3 and finishing with an overall mark of 25-6. The 14-team two-division Big East totaled a record of 112-74 with Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame all advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

"We'll play whoever is on the schedule," says Clark. "But obviously when you play basketball in the ACC there is very little room for error."

Although Shalala and Dee reiterated yesterday that the school's decision to switch athletic conferences was not strictly based on the potential financial stability the ACC could guarantee in the future the impact of the football program was obviously at the forefront. Conferences such as the SEC, Pac-10 and Big 12 with prominent members tend lure the biggest television football contracts. And adding Miami, who has competed in three of the last four national championships games and is one of the most marketable programs in the nation, will only enhance the ACC's bargaining power.

The Hurricanes, who have won seven Big East titles since joining the conference in 1991, could clearly drive the prize up and greatly benefit from it. By adding a 12th team the ACC would be in line to host a football conference title game and therefore provide more revenue for Miami and Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech accepted an invitation earlier this week.

The Hurricanes baseball team, coming off their third College World Series appearance in the last five seasons, could find the road to Omaha a little tougher facing perennial powers Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Clemson on a yearly basis. UM, already considered to have one of the toughest yearly schedules in the nation, will also have less room for error.

But UM baseball coach Jim Morris isn't complaining.

"As far as baseball we know what were getting ourselves into," said Morris, who is 472-165-2 during his tenure at UM after 11 seasons at Georgia Tech.

"The Atlantic Coast Conference is always one of the best baseball conferences in the country and that will only help us. We try our best to have a tough schedule every season and that's only going to improve now."

Morris, who was born in Raleigh, N.C. and attended Elon University, said that having a conference affiliation in baseball will help the Hurricanes keep some stability in their schedule.

"The ACC this year was ranked as the No. 1 conference in the nation in RPI. It will help us," said Morris.

The move to the ACC will also increase the exposure of all Olympic sports and women's sports at the school, including soccer and volleyball. Miami golf coach Lela Cannon expressed her feeling long before a decision was reached.

"I hope we go to the ACC and you can print that," said Cannon, in May "We went to the Big East tournament and it was the most disorganized thing I've ever seen. I can't wait."

Miami men's tennis coach Bryan Getz is also in favor of the decision.

"Usually in the Big East it's been us and Virginia Tech," said Getz, entering his fourth season. "The kids want to go where the best competition is and I feel the ACC offers that and more."

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