Q&A: Fr. Leahy Discusses BC's Move to the ACC

Q&A: Fr. Leahy Discusses BC's Move to the ACC

Two days after Boston College's decision to accept an invitation to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, University President William P. Leahy SJ, sat down with Chronicle to answer questions about the move from the Big East to the ACC. The following are excerpts from the interview.

Chronicle: What are the main reasons for BC to join the ACC?

Fr. Leahy: The decision to join the Atlantic Coast Conference is based on my judgment of what is in the best interest of Boston College.

Chronicle: Would you explain the benefits?

Fr. Leahy: First, from an academic standpoint, I believe that the ACC is a great fit for Boston College. It has five universities - Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Virginia, and Georgia Tech - that, like us, are ranked among the top 40 national universities, and it is a conference with a balanced mix of private and public institutions.

In addition, the ACC is in a part of the United States with attractive demographics, a great plus for our student recruiting efforts in future years.

Finally and very important to me, the ACC is committed to a program of academic cooperation and collaboration that encourages faculty and student exchanges as well as sharing library resources, something not done in the Big East.

Second, the ACC is a conference that has strength and stability. There are no concerns about its survival, in contrast to the Big East, which every few years has had to deal with questions about its viability. Consequently, membership in the ACC secures the future of our intercollegiate athletics program.

Third, the financial benefits of being in the ACC will help us support non-revenue sports at BC, especially for female athletes.

Chronicle: How much will our withdrawal from the Big East cost and how will it be paid?

Fr. Leahy: I do not know yet what the exit fees will be from the Big East, and today [Oct. 14] we filed a request in the Suffolk Superior Court asking that a judge clarify provisions in the Big East Constitution and by-laws in regard to withdrawal.

Whatever the fees are, we plan to pay them by borrowing from the unrestricted endowment of the athletics department. Eventually, we will repay these funds from the revenue that we will receive from membership in the ACC. The costs for leaving the Big East will not be paid from Boston College's general operating budget.

Chronicle: Do you foresee a need to expand our athletics facilities, such as Alumni Stadium or Conte Forum?

Fr. Leahy: Not at all. Our facilities compare favorably with schools in the ACC.

Chronicle: Do you anticipate more missed class time and higher travel costs in the ACC than in the Big East?

Fr. Leahy: Our preliminary findings suggest that we will not have to deal with a major change in missed classes by student athletes nor an increase in travel costs compared to what would have been the case if we had stayed in the Big East and had to travel to such places as Chicago, Milwaukee, Louisville, and Cincinnati. We have excellent airline connections from Boston to many areas in the southeast. Also, our teams will now travel more by plane, and that will greatly reduce the number of van/bus trips, which will make travel safer for our student athletes.

Chronicle: Will it be possible to continue playing some of our longstanding rivals?

Fr. Leahy: There will be opportunities for BC to play non- conference games with such schools as Providence, St. John's, and Georgetown in basketball and Syracuse in football.

Chronicle: Would you explain the sequence of events that led to the invitation and acceptance on Sunday?

Fr. Leahy: Let me go back to July. The presidents of Big East football schools at a meeting in Newark on July 9 voted unanimously to accept a recommendation from their directors of athletics that an 8-9 school, all-sports conference be established. But within a few weeks, I learned that the other presidents no longer were committed to the 8-9 school concept, but wanted to expand to a conference of 16 institutions. I opposed such a plan on numerous occasions because 14 schools in the conference had not worked and therefore going to 16 institutions seemed to only worsen the problem.

In late September, the NCAA championships cabinet voted against allowing the ACC to hold a football championship game with only 11 schools. Press reports then suggested that this would cause the ACC to consider adding a 12th team, and speculation began that BC would be invited to join.

On Oct. 1, the Big East subcommittee working on reorganizing the conference met in Newark, and I told the group that given stories in the press and because of my continued unhappiness with the proposed league structure, I intended to find out if the ACC was in fact interested in BC, and then make a decision. I also said that I realized the Big East needed to know soon about BC's status so that the Conference could complete restructuring plans for action at the Nov. 4 meeting of league presidents.

On Oct. 12, we received and accepted an invitation to become a member of the ACC.

Chronicle: What is the University's response to the lawsuit filed by some of the Big East schools against BC and Miami today in Connecticut?

Fr. Leahy: As I said in June and continue to believe, such lawsuits are a waste of time and money. The allegations are groundless; and in the opinion of some observers, they stem from politics and political aspirations in the state of Connecticut. The lawsuits serve as nothing more than a distraction for all involved. There are a lot of other ways for universities to resolve their differences.

It is clear that the Big East Constitution includes an explicit provision allowing schools to leave the conference, and as I told the other presidents at our meeting in Newark in July, if schools are not happy with the direction of their conference or have a more attractive option, they will pay the withdrawal penalty and go to another conference.

Chronicle: How do you feel about BC ending its ties to the Big East?

Fr. Leahy: I feel a certain sadness because I enjoyed my contact with the other presidents and the conference office. I also know the difficulties conference realignments cause. But, in my judgment, the ACC is a much better fit for Boston College. I believe strongly that this move is necessary and right. I can also tell you that the response to our decision to join the ACC has been extraordinarily positive on campus and among our alumni and friends. I look forward to being in the ACC.


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