Presidents Stand Firm

Text and comments from the presidents' conference call on Tuesday which both embraced Virginia Governor John Warner's calls for mediation and reiterated the schools firm resolve to stand behind their litigation.

Opening Statement:

"If the ACC votes to expand, its actions will reverberate across the entire university academic and athletic world. If universities are allowed to succeed by having secret meetings, making closed-door deals, and breaking promises that others have relied upon, a terrible precedent will have been set. And if one major conference succeeds in poaching three teams from another major conference, powerful reverberations will be felt across the entire country. The ACC, along with B.C. and Miami, will be responsible for the chain reaction that might result - a chain reaction that could disrupt established athletic conferences from coast in coast."

"That is why we today embrace Virginia Governor Mark Warner's call for university leaders from across the country to come together to talk about establishing such way to resolve disputes between athletic conferences. Today, no such dispute resolution mechanism exists, and that is why we had no alternative but to go to court to protect the Big East.

"Yet all university presidents are committed to the same values and principles that are the foundation of the American higher education system. A workable dispute resolution mechanism might give us all an opportunity to find common ground that would preserve the stability and enhance the futures of all of our athletic conferences. We applaud Governor Warner's call to action, and we pledge our support for his efforts."

This statement was released by:

Richard McCormick, President, Rutgers University
Philip Austin, President, University of Connecticut
Mark A. Nordenberg, Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh
Charles W. Steger, President, Virginia Tech
David C. Hardesty, Jr., President, West Virginia University

Following are some additional comments from the teleconference:

President Steger

"I think we all view the lawsuit as a last resort in this process. The damages we anticipate could happen are very real in nature, and I hope the ACC will reconsider their action and will sit down with us and try to work this out in a constructive fashion.

"If the expansion occurs, Virginia Tech will suffer damages in the many millions of dollars.

"I think Governor (Mark) Warner has made a very constructive proposal, and we would look forward to sitting down with our colleagues and working through this issue to keep both our conferences vital in the future.

"I have great confidence in John Casteen, the president of UVA. He will do what he believes is right.

"First of all, this activity of expansion caught many of us by surprise. We made considerable efforts to visit with many individuals. We spoke with the ACC and many of the ACC presidents who I have known for many years in an attempt to see what was likely to happen. Secondly, we made no secret that we thought we would be a good fit for the ACC. That has all been in the papers for the last month or so. There's nothing that hasn't been made public that hasn't gone on.

"I've talked with the Governor (of Virginia) about this regularly. During the last month, we've talked frequently. It is an issue he is concerned about, and that's why I say I appreciate his constructive suggestions."

President Hardesty

"First of all, we have tried, as best we could, to preserve relationships as we went through this. We made special trips to meet with the presidents of Miami, BC and Syracuse. The tone of those meetings was both cordial and professional. All of us deal with very difficult issues in our normal lives as presidents of American colleges. We deal with conflicts and values and problems that arise on a daily basis, and we have all learned to go on down the road. What we lacked here was a way to resolve this dispute without filing a lawsuit, which was clearly our last resort. For various reasons, we had problems in communications in talking this thing through. Hopefully something will come of this mediation proposal. I will say the suit was filed on the merits of the case and not simply as a delaying tactic.

"Circumstances have clearly changed. In our own case, this is a very fact-specific case. We have an agreement upon which we relied. The result would be, if we departed ways at this time, there would be very serious damage done to all our institutions. It's significant, and it results from our assumption that the league would continue for the foreseeable future.

"I think it's pretty much our position right now that we'll see what unfolds in the next few days, and we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

"Over time, all possibilities have been discussed openly and candidly in the Big East meetings. But I will say at one point in time not long ago, we revised our constitution because we felt the diversity of our league represented the diversity of all higher education institutions in America. For many of us, the fact that we are public and private, large and small, exclusively and relatively open universities is a strength of the conference rather than a weakness. It gives it a richness and purpose that we've found valuable."

President Nordenberg

(On NCAA involvement) "I think President Brand has himself indicated publicly that there is no historic precedent for the NCAA to be involved in matters of this type. If there is a request from member schools seeking his assistance, he might help. Our discussions with him have not gone beyond that."

"Litigation was not discussed (with Shalala)."

"Both President McCormick, from Rutgers, and I did reach out to the four ACC presidents who also lead AAU universities (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia). We have broad ranging relationships with those universities on research and other academic matters through that group. We did urge them to exercise caution and to consider all the implications of their decision making before moving forward. But there has no contact between us since then.

"One of the outcomes of mediation may be a way in which the two conferences could coexist together in the years ahead. Those are possibilities that have never been full discussed, to my knowledge."

President McCormick

"During my time at (North) Carolina, which was during the early '90s, there was no discussion of expanding the ACC. It was then, as it is now, a highly successful conference. Those of us within it, believed in it 100 percent in those terms."

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