Professions of affection? Speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace intervention from politicians? Schools jilted at the altar?
Been there, done that.
As media such as the Kansas City Star, New York Times and the Associated Press revealed Wednesday, politicians are intervening (meddling?) in the Big 12’s realignment at the 11th hour. With the conference poised to invite West Virginia, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky lobbied for his alma mater, Louisville.
McConnell contacted the leaders of two Big 12 schools with whom he used to work in Congress: Oklahoma president David Boren, a former senator, and Texas Tech chancellor Kent Hance, a former congressman.
Big 12 officials promptly backed off their planned West Virginia invite, irking, to say the least, that state’s pols.
“The Big 12 picked WVU on the strength of its program -- period,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller said in a statement to the AP. “Now the media reports that political games may upend that. That's just flat wrong. I am doing and will do whatever it takes to get us back to the merits.”
Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s other senator, said during a news conference that if McConnell had intervened, the Senate should investigate.
“If the story that we have been told has any merit to it, I've been very clear,” Manchin said, according to USA Today. “If somebody, a U.S. Senator would intervene after the process took place, that's wrong and it's unacceptable. And at that point in time if that happened, I will ask for a Senate investigation. I don't believe that that is the way that this game should be played.”
Presumably Manchin said this with a straight face, and reporters in the audience did not laugh out loud.
We in ACC country are well-versed in such machinations.
“We feel really comfortable with the situation at all three of these schools,” then-North Carolina State athletic director Lee Fowler said during the Syracuse visit.
The deal seemed done.
Until Mark Warner, then Virginia’s governor, instructed the University of Virginia to insist that any ACC expansion include Virginia Tech, then a member of the Big East. Since Duke and North Carolina opposed any expansion, and since approval required yes votes from seven of the conference’s then nine members, U.Va. was positioned to block any invitation.
Warner, who attended George Washington and Harvard, began most days at the governor’s mansion on his exercise bike, reading news clips compiled by his staff. The more he read about ACC expansion, the more he was intrigued.
“A couple of people in Southwest Virginia said, 'Hey, you know Tech's trying to get into the ACC,’” Warner told me during his 2008 U.S. Senate campaign. “The first time I heard it, I think, I was in the middle of budget battles or whatever, so it wasn't like I was smart enough to leap on it. ...
“(But then) it hit me that this was something that was much bigger than sports. This was in a lot of ways about economic development for Southwest Virginia. ... It just seemed to make such good sense.”
Warner contacted colleagues such as North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley and University of Miami president Donna Shalala to promote Virginia Tech and the economic impact of its fans.
But the focus of Warner's politicking was Virginia president John Casteen and the school’s 16-member Board of Visitors.
“President Casteen was always supportive (of Tech), but his board got a little wobbly,” Warner told me. “I had to refresh the memory of some board members that they serve at the pleasure of the governor, that this was not about U.Va. versus Tech, ... it was in the best interest of the state.
“After a few candid conversations with a couple of board members, I think they understood. And the board stood solid.”
From June 10-21, 2003, ACC presidents convened four times via teleconference, never reaching consensus on expansion.
Then-Wake Forest president Thomas Hearn said later on the university's website, “A majority of our members, including myself, believed that we had taken a decisive vote that would lead to offers of admission to Boston College, the University of Miami and Syracuse University, absent any negative findings — of which there were none — from the site visits.
“A smaller group thought ... the crucial vote was yet to be taken. ... We entered a period of procedural paralysis, trying to find a way out of the impasse created by our failure to understand one another.”
On June 24, the impasse broke as ACC presidents approved Virginia Tech and Miami. Months later, they added Boston College. Syracuse remained in the Big East, though last month the Orange accepted an invitation to join the ACC.
“As governor, you're called some good names and some not-so-nice names,” Warner told me in 2008. “But even during the worst part of the tax debate, I wasn't called as bad ... names as I was on some of the (Virginia) message boards: ‘Raise my taxes, but don't let the Hokies into the ACC.’”
And during his Senate campaign?
“Many times, I hear ‘You're a blankety-blank Democrat, but I'm still going to vote for you because you got our Hokies into the ACC,’” Warner said. “I much better appreciate now the level of the (Virginia-Virginia Tech) rivalry.”
Warner won that Senate race, defeating another former governor, Jim Gilmore, in a landslide.
“It was a wild ride,” Warner said of expansion. “I never, never would have predicted it.”
So two words of advice for the Big 12, West Virginia and Louisville: Buckle up.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP