CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Miami accepted an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference on Monday, spurning a flurry of last-minute offers from Big East officials to remain in their league.
University president Donna Shalala and athletic director Paul Dee formally announced the decision in a statement released moments before a schedule on-campus news conference, ending what was a seven-week courtship between their school and the ACC.
Virginia Tech president Charles Steger said last week his school is also leaving the Big East and joining the ACC.
ACC commissioner John Swofford sent an e-mail to school presidents in his conference Monday morning to tell them of Miami's decision, according to two league sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In a statement, the presidents and chancellors of the six remaining Big East football schools - Boston College, Syracuse, Connecticut, Rutgers, Temple and West Virginia - vowed their conference would become "even stronger."
"The Big East remains a strong, elite conference comprising some of the finest universities in the country. ... (We) will continue to approach that challenge with commitment, creativity and a sense of urgency," they said in a group statement.
Miami's decision to join Virginia Tech in defecting from the Big East dramatically alters the balance of power within the conferences, bringing the ACC two of the nation's strongest football programs and leaving the Big East with a big void.
Miami and Virginia Tech will begin playing in the ACC as soon as the 2004-05 season. Both remain Big East members for 2003-04, since schedules for the upcoming academic year have already been made.
Each school will pay the Big East a $1 million exit fee and the ACC a $3 million entrance fee. If Miami had made its intentions known after Monday, its exit fee could have doubled.
The ACC originally sought to expand to 12 schools so it could offer a lucrative conference title game in football. While the league plans to seek another school, it also could ask the NCAA to change the 12-member requirement.
Officials from several Big East schools were in contact with Shalala and Dee all weekend to persuade the Hurricanes to stay put. The Miami officials also were studying a counterproposal from Big East members, who had previously guaranteed the Hurricanes $45 million over five years to stay in their league.
The counteroffer was led by Boston College and Syracuse, which were the other two schools the ACC originally targeted in its 12-team scenario. But those institutions were told last week that they would not receive invitations, a decision that Shalala said she was "deeply disappointed" over.
Miami's decision ensures the legal battle over the ACC's expansion will continue.
A lawsuit contends Big East members Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh have spent millions on their football programs based on presumed loyalty from schools it had been aligned with, including Miami.
Virginia Tech was originally among the plaintiffs; it was removed from the case after being invited to join the ACC. Boston College and Miami were the original defendants; Miami now is the lone one, accused of participating in a conspiracy intended to weaken the Big East.
"We will continue vigorously to protect the Big East in the courts of Connecticut," said Jeffrey Mishkin, the lead counsel for the Big East plaintiffs. "The ACC's 50th anniversary will now be marked with depositions and document discovery exposing the ACC's predatory conduct and Miami's conspiratorial actions."
Miami has won six of the 12 Big East football championships; Virginia Tech has three. Miami has the best all-time record in Big East play (66-10), followed by Virginia Tech (53-23), which is percentage points ahead of Syracuse (56-26).
In the last three seasons, Miami has the best record among all Division I-A football programs, 35-2. Virginia Tech (29-9) is tied for eighth on that list.
Since the inception of the Big East's football conference in 1991, Miami is the only school to have won a national championship. The Hurricanes won national titles in 1991 and 2001, plus played for the crown after last season, losing to Ohio State.
Virginia Tech also played for the national championship after the 1999 season, losing to Florida State.
Miami voted to join the Big East in October 1990, five months before the league's football conference was formed. The Big East had long been best known as a basketball conference, especially after the success Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova enjoyed during the 1980s.
The Big East's original attraction to Miami was mainly linked to its football successes: The Hurricanes had had won three football national titles in the eight years prior to their acceptance into the conference.
"Our future was at stake," Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said on Oct. 10, 1990, the day Miami's trustees voted unanimously to join the Big East. "If the Big East and the University of Miami could not have gotten together, I'm not certain we had an answer that would have satisfied the football concerns of Pitt, Boston College and Syracuse."
Now, as Miami has staked its future in the ACC, the Big East's future may be at stake again.