Punch and Counterpunch

Like a classic boxing match, the ACC and Big East are trading punches in their battle for dominance and survival. Observers should, however, look past the current moves and a bit further down the road before making their predictions or declaring a winner.

SMACK! Five Big East schools hit the ACC, Miami and Boston College with a lawsuit.

POW! The ACC says it won't affect their expansion plans.

CRUNCH! THUD! The furious five (West Virginia, Virginia Tech, UConn, Rutgers and Pitt) doubles up with press conferences and thinly veiled warnings about destroying evidence from their attorney.

POP! The ACC fights back by continuing their conference calls concerning expansion.

ZING! The Big East presidents send a letter to ACC chair of presidents James Barker seeking a meeting and further dialogue about the ACC's expansion plans.

OOF! The ACC finally shows something of a crack in their armor. For the second straight day, the ACC schools could either not agree to hold a vote on expansion offers, or, at least, agreed not to vote. As a result, does the Big East hold the upper hand?

Not quite yet. Just like in the early days of the expansion talks, when many observers had the defection of Miami, Boston College and Syracuse marked down as a done deal, we felt, and said, that there was likely still a lot of maneuvering to be done. And now, when the ACC has failed, for the second straight day, to even bring an expansion vote to the table (officially, at least), we see it only as a small victory for WVU and their companion plaintiffs, when others might be viewing it as the death knell for ACC expansion.

Although no vote has yet been held, the ACC presidents will reconvene via teleconference, but not before next week. And although ACC Commissioner John Swofford is spinning the results of the past two teleconferences better than Charlotte did for Wilbur, it's clear that the ACC has lost some momentum. However, it's probably not the end of the battle, and certainly not the end of the war. The ACC undoubtedly has some more haymakers to throw.

One thing that tends to get lost in all the shuffling and spinning is that the five suing schools don't really expect their legal action to preserve the conference as is. Many media bobbleheads continue to say that the lawsuit will be a failure because it won't keep the teams together, and that the suing schools should just "give up and move on".

That point of view would be fine, excpet that it misses the point. The five schools don't expect the lawsuit to keep the conference together forever. The suit was filed mainly to try to head off the quick exit of the three defecting schools (which could have happened as quickly as the end of the 2003-2004 season), and hopefully delay the process until after 2005, when the BCS contract is up and a new system, one that could be friendly to more conferences and perhaps include more bowl games, will be negotiated and implemented. (The Gator and CapitalOne bowls are both positioning themselves to be included in the BCS mix at that time, and others are sure to mount challenges as well.)And along the way, if the plaintiffs can recover damages, so much the better.

One other point to keep in mind is that the five schools are not suing because the three schools are leaving. They are suing because of alleged duplicitous acts by two of the schools and the ACC, and the resulting damages that they believe will accrue as a result of those acts. That's a somewhat fine, but very important, difference. Yet, many columnists and pundits continue to miss that point.

Now, look down the road a year. For the sake of argument, say that the five schools win the suit, and as a result the Big East remains intact through 2003 and 2004. There's nothing to stop Miami, or any school, from beginning aboveboard and unhidden talks with other conferences. In fact, odds are that will likely happen.

However, if the Big East can just hang on as a viable football conference (read, keep their BCS bid) for a couple more years, they'll be in a much better position to either rebuild or be a player in the BCS negotiations and restructuring that will be commencing around that time.

Although many are looking for a quick resolution to this dispute, we don't think that will occur, no matter which side wins this opening battle. There are still heavier issues, and more battles, to be fought before this war is settled.

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