Varsity Tempest

The collegiate Atlantic Coast Conference's attempt to expand at the expense of the Big East Conference has all the elements of high drama. But it's quickly turning into one of those Shakespearean tragedies in which everybody loses in the final act. And the reviews are unworthy of some of the country's most prestigious state and private schools and the leagues in which they compete in football, basketball, baseball, track, and many other varsity sports.

The nine-member ACC, in the Macbeth role, is nothing if not audacious. It recently voted to invite three of the rival Big East's top football schools - Boston College, the University of Miami (Florida), and Syracuse University - to abandon their league and join the ACC. The ACC is acting on the theory that, in the future, superconferences will dominate college sports - and it's determined to be one of them.

The 15-member Big East, in the role of Duncan, would be considerably reduced - some would say decimated - by the loss of the three sports powers, with spurned Virginia Tech, by far larger than the remaining schools, in the part of Banquo's ghost.

But something is rotten in Denmark. Seven ACC schools must vote for expansion, and trouble is brewing. Duke University and the University of North Carolina, playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, say they are upset about the bad faith shown by the Big East. Meanwhile, a play within a play is unfolding as five Big East schools have filed a lawsuit against Miami, Boston College, and the ACC.

Enter the University of Virginia as Hamlet. Upset that Virginia Tech was not invited as well, it could be the third vote that blocks ACC expansion.

Attempting to head off a tragic ending, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) is pleading with the National Collegiate Athletic Association or an outside mediator to intervene.

Somebody should. The schools in a sports conference are engaged in a partnership for the common good. The Big East's remaining members stand to lose big money in this plot: Deprived of three of its marquee universities, the conference will attract less television coverage, which brings colleges serious revenues. Neither the conferences nor the universities involved can benefit from the feelings of betrayal and disgust that this script will leave behind, regardless of how the play ends.

If everyone would just step back, perhaps the two conferences could find mutually beneficial ways to cooperate. Then they would find All's Well That Ends Well.

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