Virginia Tech worried about future of Big EastPosted: Saturday June 07, 2003 12:19 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Virginia Tech officials view a lawsuit filed Friday against the Atlantic Coast Conference and two possible Big East defectors as a means of slowing the process that could leave the Hokies and four other schools fighting for their athletic survival.
Virginia Tech president Charles Steger also said a visit he paid to the ACC in early May was not an attempt to lobby the league to include the Hokies in expansion.
"I didn't ask the ACC presidents about us joining," Steger said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I asked them if they could give me some sense of what they saw happening. ... I didn't ask them to take Virginia Tech into the ACC."
In the end, the ACC rejected Virginia Tech as an expansion target and instead set its sights on Miami, Boston College and Syracuse. The league finished campus visits with the schools this week, and the invitations are now seen as a mere formality.
Once spurned, Virginia Tech quickly joined the attack against the plan.
The lawsuit, filed by Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Temple and Rutgers against the ACC, Miami and Boston College, seeks an injuction preventing the schools and Syracuse from jumping leagues, as well as hundred of millions of dollars in damages.
"We genuinely regret having to take this action, but it's really the only tool left that we had to work with," Steger said of the suit, which was filed in Connecticut.
The presidents of the five schools that would be left in a stripped-down Big East met Wednesday with Miami president Donna Shalala in Washington, D.C., asking her to be "receptive and open to some other possible solutions to the issue," Steger said.
After the meeting, Steger had little hope the schools would stay in the Big East. The lawsuit, he said, is an attempt to slow the process down and weigh options.
"The Big East is a corporation," Steger said at a news conference. "Each of the presidents who serves on the governing council of the Big East has a fiduciary responsiblity that is defined in law to act in the best interests of the collective entity, and I think that's one of the areas where we have some collective concern."
Had the Hokies been among the schools invited to join the ACC, Steger agreed, critics could have suggested Virginia Tech's leadership was among those violating that duty, but he added that he first tried to derail expansion talk about a month ago.
"Way back in this process, I suggested to, I guess it was Syracuse with the idea that Boston College would agree, that if the three of us would even agree and put it in writing to not accept the ACC offer -- to keep the conference together," he said.
"I was not taken up on that."
Athletic director Jim Weaver said the Hokies program would suffer untold financial damage if Miami, a national power, and oft-ranked Boston College and Syracuse leave.
"When three-eighths of your football membership would depart, there's going to be damage," he said. "We can't ascertain the value of that at this juncture. I can tell you that the [TV] contract calls for renegotiation the minute one member institution leaves. If three are leaving, one can only speculate what that damage might be."
The Big East's Bowl Championship Series berth is worth an estimated $15 million to the league, Weaver said, a figure expected to rise. "If that $15 million disappears, there's tremendous damage for the institutions that remain. The point I'm making is that damages are unknown but could be very high once the toll is finally taken."
Reports have also suggested the three would rather leave earlier than the 2005 target date, perhaps in time to play an ACC schedule in the 2004 football season.
Weaver said that would put the five schools left behind in a bind.
"We would have to find three football games for 2004. Where are we going to find those? Most people are scheduled, like we are, out 10 or 12 years," he said.