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Many schools fear the force of Hurricanes

Published May 18, 2003

We have seen them strut, and we have seen them swagger.

We have seen them hoist national championship trophies into the air, and we have listened to them give Heisman speeches.

We have seen their stars act as if the college game wasn't good enough for them, and then we have seen them do the same thing in the NFL.

It is only now, however, while a nation trembles, that we see the real power of the Miami Hurricanes.

They ponder moving from this neighborhood to that one, and the rest of college football holds its breath. They weigh the merits of hanging out with this bunch of guys instead of that bunch of guys, and everyone else scurries for cover. They sit in the driver's seat, and teams such as Syracuse, Boston College and Virginia Tech fight for the right to ride in the backseat.

Any second now, the Big East might simply dry up and blow away. The ACC might become a superpower. Conference USA's teams might go social climbing. The Big Ten is curious. Supposedly, even the Pac-10 is watching.

This is power, true power. The Hurricanes consider what they might have for lunch, and everyone else scrambles for the leftovers.

For a very long time, Miami has ruled college football. Everyone knows that. During the past two decades, the Hurricanes have won five national titles, they've played for three others and they should have gotten a chance to play for one more. No matter who the coach has been, no matter who the stars have been, it has not changed. Miami has produced belligerent, bombastic bullies at every position.

It is only now, however, when you see the changes that may result simply because Miami might change leagues, that you realize how completely the rest of college has fallen in line.

Once, it was this way at Alabama. Bear Bryant would send a player into the huddle, then out, and the NCAA would pass a rule against it. Once, it was this way at Notre Dame, where the historians could not wait to jot down the latest legend.

Now, it is Miami. It wants a better brand name. The ACC beckons, with a friendlier travel schedule, with a little more money, with a little more depth than that loose association of teams that makes up the Big East.

It was bound to happen. The Big East is not so much a conference as it is a loose collection of schools that don't belong anywhere else. It is like one of Cyndi Lauper's old outfits; nothing quite fits, and nothing quite matches. Some schools don't play football, and some barely play it. Notre Dame, I believe, is a member on alternate Tuesdays.

The ACC will be a better fit. Funny thing about the ACC. Most years, it remains the premier basketball league in the country, and not a bad football conference. Because of its geography, however, the ACC has been eaten up with SEC envy.

Well, take a look now, fellas. When it comes to teams that have a chance to win a national title - and isn't that how a conference should be judged? - the ACC is about to be as good as anyone. Just think: Someday, an ACC champion might be able to hock his championship rings, too.

Please, spare me your tears for the Big East. It's about time someone put it out of its misery.

Better yet, let it reform as a basketball-only conference. With Miami, Boston College and probably Syracuse out of the way, let the conference invite Marquette, DePaul and, say, Charlotte. Quick. Someone get Dick Vitale on the phone.

There are those who see the Big East as turning to, say, Conference USA and trying to reload. If my team's in Conference USA, I say why bother? Yes, the Big East has that automatic berth in the BCS, but that's going to disappear as soon as Miami pulls out of the driveway.

If I'm Conference USA, I'm inviting Pitt, Virginia Tech and West Virginia into my league, and I'm telling Alabama-Birmingham and East Carolina they're being demoted to the Mid-American Conference. Hey, blame Miami.

It is this way all over. Everyone wants to know what time it is in Miami. Even the Big Ten, which has 11 teams at a time when everyone wants 12. That sentence alone should tell you something is wrong.

Pitt wants in the Big Ten so badly that, if it were a requirement, the Panthers would wear polka-dotted uniforms. Syracuse, supposedly, would consider an invitation. But everyone knows what the Big Ten wants. It wants Notre Dame to join.

That makes sense, and if there were a commissioner of college football, he'd probably require it. Notre Dame, however, is making too much money to give up its own network.

(The easy cure: Threaten to leave Notre Dame out of a potential playoff scenario if it doesn't play the same game as the rest of the nation.)

Oh, that might not be all of the fallout. Maybe the Pac-10 will consider expansion. Maybe the SEC will trade Kentucky for Clemson, after all. Maybe Virginia Tech will squeeze into the ACC after all, just so Seth Greenberg can hang with Mike Kryzewski and Roy Williams.

Then there is this. Miami's move might even alter the schedules we have come to know. For instance, if Miami and FSU are in the same division of the new ACC, their annual game is going to be awfully important. Both teams might prefer to play it later. That means FSU would push Florida to move their game to earlier in the season; Florida then would be able to push its game against Tennessee to the end of the season.

Such is the power of the Hurricanes. They flex their muscles, and it trickles down across the rest of college football.

There is an old saying that, perhaps, the universe was created when God sneezed.

Maybe so.

We've seen what can happen when one program hiccups.

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