Big Four not in charge anymore

The winds of change are whipping across the Eastern Seaboard. A storm, brewing in Florida, could soon be making its way across Dixie and on up into New York and New England. However, when the dust settles, the state with the most power knocked out could be North Carolina.

For perhaps the first time in the 50-year existence of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the balance of power is shifting. For the foreseeable future, the four pillars of strength that are the ACC's Tobacco Road strongholds - NC State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest - may no longer be in control.

The league appears on the verge of offering membership to Miami, and thus to a couple of Hurricane hangers-on (most likely Boston College and Syracuse). However, it will take seven of the nine current ACC members to vote "yes" for expansion to 12 teams.

N.C. State and Wake Forest appear to be cautiously studying expansion, though Wolfpack football coach Chuck Amato told the media on Monday to, in effect, "bring on Miami." But according to various reports, Duke and North Carolina are staunchly against expansion, citing concern over the amount of ACC Tournament tickets allotted and the fear of only meeting once a year in hoops due to a two-division, 12-team conference as the reasons.

"The thing that made our league is basketball," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "Football is great, too. But the two-division concept in basketball for our league would be really bad. ... When you're in a league and you make a huge decision like that, then you have to be cognizant of the impact of the other aspects.

"The primary issue was that we did things a certain way with a true round-robin schedule."

Throw Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams' name into the "nay" column as well, even though Terrapins football coach Ralph Friedgen has campaigned for expansion in the past.

"I would think they would have to stay," Williams told Katz about round robin play in basketball. "It would be weird if we played Carolina only once."

Unfortunately for K and Gary, this isn't about basketball. And it's not about football.

It's about survival, something one former Big East hoops coach understands.

Former St. John's basketball coach Fran Fraschilla told a New Jersey newspaper that the Big East - like the ACC - has a strong tradition, "but major college football is the engine that drives the train."

The ACC schools that shoot down expansion may believe they are doing the right thing by attempting, in their eyes, to keep some integrity and familiarity in the conference. They may also think they are saving the greatest basketball league in America. (As if that would be diminished with the addition of a solid BC program and - gasp! - the defending national champion Orangemen.)

After all it was a North Carolinian, Thomas Wolfe, who wrote: "You can't go home again." In a sense, he is right. The ACC set a precedent over a decade ago with the addition of Florida State that said that football, not basketball, is the future king. The ACC can't return to the cozy days of just eight members, and spectators will soon look back on the days of nine members the same way.

The addition of football power Florida State in the early 1990s raised the bar to a level that the rest of the league is just now catching up to. And for a while FSU was tired - and bored - of carrying the rest of the ACC on its back. After all, the ACC is connected to the Bowl Championship Series because of FSU, not the other way around.

The fact of the matter is, if expansion doesn't happen, don't be surprised to open up your local newspaper one day soon and see FSU threatening to bolt. FSU officials will be the first to admit that its acceptance to the ACC has enhanced its all-around athletics and its academic reputation. But it's not as if FSU has a historic, nostalgic tie to the league.

If expansion doesn't happen and FSU threatens to leave - and some Seminoles fans have claimed for years that FSU would've been better off in the SEC - then don't be stunned to see a domino effect of secession: Georgia Tech? Clemson? All of a sudden the ACC no longer has a BCS tie-in and no television coverage south of Raleigh or north of Baltimore (that's if Maryland, the only other ACC school to win a national football championship other than the southern three, doesn't jump to another conference).

The ramifications of not expanding could be momentous, and could have a disastrous impact on the Big Four as the rest of the ACC sticks it to them. (Don't you think they'd enjoy that?) The North Carolina schools have an opportunity to keep together, in at least some form and fashion, the very conference they made respectable, revered and famous. Shooting down expansion would be the same as shooting themselves in the foot.


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