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UConn AD- Football five united

by Donna Tommelleo

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

STORRS, Conn. -- While Miami, Boston College and Syracuse ponder their invitations to join the ACC, there is solidarity among the five remaining Big East football schools, Connecticut Athletic Director Lew Perkins said Thursday.

Perkins said he is hopeful the united front by UConn, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Rutgers may be enough to persuade the three to stay put. A decision from the three is expected by June 30, Perkins said.

"We're willing to do whatever we can do to convince them," said Perkins, who recently returned from four days of Big East meetings in Florida. "We're loyal to the Big East.

"This is how we grew. Sometimes you have to stand up and say those kind of things. The four other schools are prepared to say that too."

Perkins said the three schools sought by the ACC, regardless of their decisions, still have to participate in the Big East until 2005.

The ACC wants to expand to a 12-team league and extended invitations last week to the three schools. Miami feels it could do better financially in the ACC, which distributed about $9 million to its nine teams last year in revenue-sharing cash. League officials believe they can command bigger money in their next TV negotiation with a 12-team league and a football championship game.

Perkins would not comment on specifics of the meetings but said Big East officials did discuss revenue distribution in response to the schools' financial concerns.

"We gave them ways we thought we could help," he said.

UConn is in its fifth year of Division I-A football and technically won't join the Big East until 2005. The Huskies, who finished 6-6 last year, committed to major college football just in time, he said.

"At least we're in the room," Perkins said. "We're going to have a say in this whole thing. We are a player."

Since Perkins' arrival at UConn in 1990 from Maryland, an ACC school, UConn has fielded six national championship teams in three sports -- men's and women's basketball and men's soccer.

While the Huskies are still developing their football program under coach Randy Edsall, UConn's dominance in basketball is well established. The UConn women are four-time national champs and the men won the title in 1999. Any potential realignment won't undermine UConn hoops, Perkins said.

"Our basketball teams are going to play at the highest level. That's not going away," he said. "And I think what Randy has already shown and done in a very short period of time is we're going to play at the highest level of football."

The Huskies open the 2003 football season at the new 40,000-seat, $90 million stadium in East Hartford. Should the five Big East teams end up together in a refashioned Big East, they still present a potent group. Virginia Tech and West Virginia have played for national championships.

"If Miami goes, there's nothing we can do about it," Perkins said. "But who's to say we can't continue to play Miami."

UConn has already scheduled SEC, ACC and Big 10 opponents for future games, Perkins said.

In the end, the decision to join the ACC rests with the university presidents of the three schools, whom Perkins called bright and reasonable people. He said he hopes the future of women's athletics is taken into account.

"I hope as those three schools make those decisions that it doesn't come back and haunt them because they have to make other cuts to make it work," he said. "I hope it's not a setback for college athletics, Title IX in particular."