Jumping off the Ivory Tower

In a strange twist of circumstance, rivals North Carolina and Duke University have formed a tag-team duo whose intent seems to be to body slam the Atlantic Coast Conference's bid for expansion.

Never short for pious statements, the powers-that-be in Durham and Chapel Hill have stated in recent weeks that they are concerned that the new conference affiliations will cause for a longer amount of time that students-athletes are away from school and out of class.

Citing that concern, among others, Duke President Nan Keohane said in an email to other ACC leaders recently: "Unless this situation changes dramatically within the next few weeks, I cannot support expansion."

Carolina Chancellor James Moeser also sent a letter to ACC presidents last week, echoing Keohane's concerns. What in the name of inflatable football helmets is going on here?

In a vacuum, both Keohane and Moeser make valid points. Student-athletes already spend way too much time out of class; however, that didn't appear to be a concern when the two schools planned their 2003-04 schedules. Here's a look at some locales various Tar Heels and Blue Devils squads will visit this year:

UNC
Women's soccer -- Fort Wayne, Ind., Seattle, Houston
Swimming - Phoenix
Gymnastics - Los Angeles
Volleyball - San Diego, Minnesota

Duke
Women's lacrosse - Palo Alto, Calif.
Rowing - Boston (ding-ding-ding!), Austin, San Diego
Women's soccer -- Austin
Volleyball -- Madison, Wisc.
Track & Field -- Reno, Nev., Houston, New York City,Palo Alto, Calif., Austin
Swimming - Los Angeles, Dallas, Tempe, Ariz., Chicago,Las Vegas

Hmmm ... not a lot of day trips there. The fact of the matter is, there's not much of a difference - time-wise - in taking a plane trip from RDU International to Boston, Syracuse or Miami, as there is in taking a flight to Tallahassee, Fla., or riding in a bus from Chapel Hill to Charlottesville, Va., or College Park, Md. As one local sports radio personality said recently, "they're all just a plane ride away."

Keohane also said, "We are being charged with acting in bad faith by colleagues at other Big East universities" and in order to "feel even minimally comfortable with voting for an action that will have serious consequences for these peer institutions, I would have to be considerably more positive than I am now that the decision is actually the best one for our student athletes and for our conference."

What Keohane seems to forget is that the other three Big East members - Miami, Boston College and Syracuse - will endanger themselves by now tucking their tails between their legs and moping back to the Big East if they are not admitted into the ACC. Imagine being the Canes - or worse, a Canes fan -- and having to go into Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va., for the next several years to face a jilted and angry Virginia Tech. "Serious consequences" indeed. And this all comes AFTER Duke and UNC actually voted to explore expansion WITH those three schools.

Also at the center of this controversy is the University of Virginia, which has stood by - at least publicly - its sister school, Virginia Tech. UVa has threatened a "no" vote for expansion unless it involves Tech, but don't be too surprised if that's just for show in the end.

"By the end of the conversation, everybody agreed that our priority had to be what was best for the conference long-term, and it was agreed that expansion was what was best long-term," UVa Athletic Director Craig Littlepage told The Roanoke Times after Tuesday's conference call with ACC officials. "That shouldn't be news to anybody."

Then why are UNC and Duke so against expansion? Personally, I think they are both posturing to make sure they remain in the same division. But there may be more to it than that.

Presently, perhaps no other school in the ACC has as much as a national following as UNC (with Florida State and Duke next in line). You can go in a Champs store in almost any city in America and find Carolina, Duke and FSU apparel. The same goes for the University of Miami. The addition of Miami adds a fourth "national" powerhouse to the mix, and perhaps UNC and Duke don't want someone else invading their territory. Maybe not, after all, that seems a little childish.

Then what could it be? Is Carolina afraid of facing a longer game of football catch-up with the addition of the Canes? The Tar Heels already face an uphill battle in catching FSU, and UNC is falling behind NC State, Maryland and Virginia. In addition, Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech all have pieces in place to continue making strides. Are both UNC and Duke worried about adding a national hoops power in Syracuse? Or does this all come back to the age-old question of what to do with all of those tickets to the ACC Tournament?

No matter what the reason, you can believe that if expansion does not happen then the ACC, as we know it -not the Big East - could be the league that dissipates. And then Keohane and Moeser won't have to worry any more about long travel plans. After all, by that time the ACC could be the All Carolinas Conference. How do road trips to Davidson, Greensboro, Wilmington, Elizabeth City or Myrtle Beach (Coastal Carolina) sound?

I believe it was new UNC coach Roy Williams who said that sometimes you do what you have to do, not what you necessarily want to do. Makes sense to me.

Special thanks to Jacob Crawford


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