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Five Years After

The fifth anniversary of ACC expansion has rolled around. There have been quite a few articles and columns devoted to the remembrance. I figured I might as well shine in with mine.

During the Great Expansion War of 03, I had been charged with filing dispatches which, while not exactly from the front or anywhere near it, did constitute a series of regular commentary on the whole thing.

Going back and reading them now, they ranged from a defeated resignation that Virginia Tech’s athletics future was going to be far less positive than what we hoped for, to an inability to resist poking fun at the farcical nature to which the presidents’ voting process had descended, to some serious gloating once all the votes that counted had been counted. That pretty much covered how I had felt during the time.

The actual night of Final Victory, I was sitting exactly where I am now composing this column, in the same chair, although the third computer since. I was scanning the Net for results of battle, not unlike an ancient king gazing at the horizon waiting for runners from the front.

I had been told earlier in the day by someone whose opinion I respected and still do that there were not going to be thirteen teams in the ACC. That would have been simply silly and despite the Keystone Kops impression they had been giving, the ACC presidents were a well-educated, serious lot not given to extended bouts of silliness.

Given Dr. Casteen’s rigid and sensible insistence that Tech be voted on first, that meant either Syracuse or Fredo was going down, hard. I was pondering which I preferred to be the last man standing.

It seemed that Syracuse had certainly earned battlefield sepukku by virtue of blundering its way into some of the most grievous, self-inflicted wrong decisions ever seen in the history of collegiate athletics [I do wonder, as they tote up athletics losses mounting by the million and cash those meager Li’l E/Biggie E revenue sharing checks, the Orangepersons feel these days about an Eastern all-sports athletics conference revolving around Penn State? A little different than they did thirty years ago, I daresay].

In the end, however, I determined that under no circumstances should Fredo be rewarded for his duplicitous nature, an opinion I still hold. I was rooting for Syracuse.

I was also digesting news just received from someone at Tech to not be greatly surprised if, at the end of the evening, Virginia Tech found itself a member of a ten-team ACC. This was an even better outcome, one I would still chuckle over today.

Then, in the twinkling of a star seen over the Swiss Alps, the answer came. It was None of the Above. The ACC had voted to expand by two, Tech and the Canes. Eleven turned out to be, if not the magic number, one that would suffice, at least for the time being. NC State Chancellor Marye Anne Fox had decided to not only end the Great Expansion War of 03 but to shoot the wounded losers.

Tech was finally in the ACC. It had taken a long fifty years and a fitful few weeks. In the general hoopla that followed the announcement, a series of frenzied phone calls were placed. One set came from Cousin Ed to Dr. Steger, others from upstate New York and Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables. The messages were the same, consisting of “We’re all in this together” and “you promised not to leave without us.”

The first ended when Dr. Steger tuned a nearby AM radio to static, turned up the volume and shouted into the phone, “I’m sorry Ed, I can’t hear you. You must have a bad connection in the Hills. I’ll get back to you.”

The latter came to a close when the Dwarf Dyke of Miami, after publicly and angrily pouting for a weekend at having her grand scheme blow up in her face, shoved a knife into the back of Syracuse and Fredo and tagged along to the ACC.

There followed after that a couple of months’ worth of phone calls from Grandover to places like Gainesville, FL, Columbia, SC, Lexington, KY and South Bend, IN, before Little Johnny’s minions spent some time studying the logistics of flying volleyball and softball teams into both Syracuse and Boston. Shortly after that, Fredo, unfortunately, was rewarded with Spot # 12.

The question that has been asked ever since is ‘What happened?’ How did an expansion that began with the general goofiness of the ACC announcing it planned to invite the Canes, Fredo and Syracuse, end up with first Tech, then Miami gaining admission? The answer to and from those not directly involved in the drama is, ‘We’re not real sure.’

The only person who has ever spoken on the whole affair in then-VA Governor and current Senate candidate Mark Warner. He publicly took credit and still does. Indeed, he was terrific. He provided leadership, a public face for Tech’s fight and political cover for a position Dr. Casteen had announced long before Warner got involved. I welcomed Warner’s involvement, making no apologies for it then and none now.

This was absolutely no different from a former governor of North Carolina leaning on Carolina, Duke and Wake to convince them that the new athletic conference they were planning, the ACC, had best include NC State. A governor of Michigan was quite emphatic when the Wolverines attempted to keep local Michigan State out of what is now the Big 11. A governor of Texas became famous for her heavy-handed threats to Texas and Texas A&M to include her alma mater Baylor in the new Big XII. It is what governors do.

While Mark Warner spearheaded the effort, something I’m sure he will remind us of over the next few months as he prepares to RUTS the hapless Jim Gilmore, there was a little more to it than that. But, while some of the pieces to the puzzle are in place, few know exactly went on at all of the meetings, negotiations and phone calls.

None of the other major participants, from school presidents to business leaders, have ever spoken publicly about it. They adopted an Omerta that is the envy of a Mafia don. Perhaps it is just as well.

Of the major ACC presidents most closely involved, Duke’s Nan Keohane has retired, Carolina’s James Moeser and Dr. Casteen have announced their intention to and State’s Fox has moved on to another school on the other side of the continent. One of these days all may be blabbed in a memoir, unless it is not.

My notions revolve around two statements, one privately to me by somebody at Tech, to the effect that university presidents determine conference membership, not conference commissioners or athletic directors and presidents view things through a much different prism.

The other came from Frank, who publicly stated when things looked bleak that it wasn’t the ACC it was Miami. That tends to jibe, at least somewhat, with revisionist history spun by Little Johnny that basically claims he was the brilliant author of a Machiavellian plan to get the schools the ACC wanted all along, finally overcoming the Dwarf Dyke’s vow that she would only change leagues if she were allowed to dictate terms and they included Syracuse and Fredo joining the Canes. While that may be laying it on a bit thick, who knows?

What is known is five years later things have worked out pretty well for all parties. Tech has certainly benefited from membership in the regional conference to which many of us felt they always belonged. From Day 1, Tech has received better treatment from the league than they ever got from that collection of thieves and charlatans in the Big East.

For my part, I have met and interacted in my football travels around the conference and in these columns with a far friendlier and higher caliber of fan that ever encountered in the BE. The ACC is made up of very good people.

For its part, Tech has kept up its end of the bargain. 9 conference championships in 4 years, 7 in sports other than Tech’s signature one of football, demonstrates that the Hokies have not exactly been the dead weight forecast in some quarters.

In football, Tech has provided at least some legitimacy, as opposed to expansion crown jewel Miami that, yet again, seems to be suffering from a Backness deficiency that might prove extended, as the repeated refusals of established coaches to touch that job might indicate.

Fredo is Fredo. Once again, with the dumping by Jax of the football championship, we notice the truth to the old BE maxim, ‘When Fredo plays in a postseason game, that venue is immediately lost to Fredo’s conference.’ Fredo might not be adding much but a large television market in which few pay the least bit of attention to Fredo, but the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots are doing pretty well.

Five years ago, I ended a column summarizing the Great Expansion War of 03 with words that still seem apt, so I will repeat them: Virginia Tech did not start this, but it sure ended it.

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