Hurricane Watch Two conferences are wooing Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee, whose decision--stay in the Big East or bolt for the ACC--could shake up the college sports landscape

May 25, 2003

At 3 p.m. on a dazzlingly sunny Saturday, a windowless
wood-paneled hotel lounge is the last place a visitor to the
seaside resort of Ponte Vedra, Fla., should want to be. But for
Miami athletic director Paul Dee, a solitary soft drink is a
vacation unto itself these days. Since Miami's football team went
to its third straight title game in January, representatives of
the Atlantic Coast Conference have besieged Dee with phone calls,
urging him to join their fold. And throughout the Big East's
annual meeting in Ponte Vedra this past week, Dee's current
colleagues, desperate to keep him on board after the ACC's
announcement last Friday that it intends to invite the Hurricanes
to join it in a 12-team superconference, kept cornering Dee in
hallways and pleading with him in boardrooms to be true to his
roots. "I am," the 56-year-old AD said, sipping his Coke and
rubbing his red-rimmed eyes, "in a really uncomfortable
position."

And also an enviable one. When Dee made the leap from Miami's
legal counsel to head of its athletic department 10 years ago he
inherited a football team whose rap sheet was more noteworthy
than its stat sheet. Two years later some observers, including
SI, suggested he be replaced. But slowly, by hiring coaches like
Butch Davis and Larry Coker, Dee ushered Miami football into an
era of dominance. On Friday, when the nine-team ACC decided to
follow the Big 12 and the SEC and grow to 12 teams--which would
allow it to hold a football championship game--Miami was its key
target. "What Miami has accomplished over five years is amazing,"
says Florida State athletic director Dave Hart. "If this deal
comes to fruition, it would elevate our conference's profile and
prestige."

Whether realignment would best serve Miami is the question
keeping Dee awake at night. Although the tougher competition in
the ACC would mean his school could no longer tap-dance to a BCS
bowl, a move could have financial benefits for Miami's 14
scholarship sports. According to USA Today, all but two programs
in the Big 12 and SEC made a profit in the 2001-02 academic year,
while Miami lost $1.4 million--despite winning a national title
in football and going to the NCAA basketball tournament. The ACC
says Miami would receive a revenue boost of $3 million annually
in its souped-up league. Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese
disputes that figure and spent the better part of the past week
assuring Dee that a new revenue-sharing system can be devised.
"This is a crisis," Tranghese said on Monday. "At the end of the
day, Miami is going to make a decision, and that decision is
going to drive the wagon."

By switching allegiances Miami could set off what Tranghese calls
"the most devastating blow to college athletics in my lifetime."
The Hurricanes would likely be joined in the ACC by Boston
College and Syracuse, leaving the Big East with just five
football schools--minus, perhaps, Pitt, which could be courted by
the Big Ten. The Big East could then become a hoops-based league
built around its six basketball-only members. Or, in another
scenario, those hoops schools could be dropped from the Big East
so the conference could focus on football. Or the Big East could
rebuild both sports by siphoning schools like Louisville and
Cincinnati from Conference USA. To keep up, the Pac-10 might loot
a league like the Mountain West and build its own
superconference. "You think about those things," says Dee,
speaking of the possible ramifications. "But you don't base a
decision on them."

But know this about Dee--he's never been afraid to shake things
up. On Saturday he reminisced about a lesson he learned a decade
ago when he took over an athletic department mired in scandal.
"We knew then that to move in the right direction," he says,
"changes must occur." --Kelley King

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER

"Dave left all of himself on the court, every game."
--BILL BRADLEY ON DAVE DEBUSSCHERE, PAGE 22

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