In its effort to grow stronger in football by expanding, the ACC has wound up looking vulnerable, whimsical and self-destructive.

Regardless of what happens now, its reputation as a united, focused leader in college athletics has suffered.

Here's why:

1. Virginia politicians have taken control of the ACC's destiny with their strong-arm tactics in defense of Virginia Tech.

If the Hokies are included in ACC expansion, the politicians will have pulled off an amazing coup — one that should have East Carolina fans rattling every chamber door on Jones Street in an effort to duplicate the same salvation for their Pirates.

If the ACC does not expand, the Virginia politicians still win by keeping the Big East intact.

2. By conducting such public business in almost total secrecy, the ACC presidents have trashed the spirit of their offices.

The clear message from the nine university leaders to fans has been that they deserve to know little about perhaps the most important issue in the league's 50-year history.

Not only has the presidents' behavior been unconscionable, their leadership has been laughable. At no point have they demonstrated any sort of genuine unity, compelling vision or accountability. This venture has been about as well organized as a fraternity rush party.

What began as a motion to consider three teams — Boston College, Miami and Syracuse — has turned into a 13-team idea that could be bumped to a 14th, with Connecticut being widely mentioned.

Where does all this end? The presidents obviously don't have a clue. Even if they did, they're not talking.

3. Basketball has lost its prominence in the ACC.

Twelve-team basketball leagues barely function. If the ACC winds up with 13 or 14 members, it might as well be operating an ongoing NIT. The postseason conference tournament would have to be extended to five days or staged in four with two league members sitting it out.

In a 23,000-seat arena, each of the 14 schools would get no more than 1,640 tournament tickets, about 1,000 fewer than the current allotment.

Fearing the loss of league identity and traditional rivalries, most of the ACC's basketball coaches were at best cool to the notion of going to 12 teams. They couldn't possibly be happy with 13 or 14. With that many, the ACC would become the Big East in basketball.

To put this into some context, the ACC was a seven-team league entering the 1980s. If expansion now motors along to 14, there would be two seven-team divisions. Nationally, most fans would have difficulty naming all 14 teams, much less remembering which teams compete in which divisions.

4. The league's financial reasoning goes out the window.

To continue distributing $8 million to $10 million a year to each of its members, a 13- or 14-team ACC would have to land a historically lucrative television contract for football. If a weak economy doesn't make that possible, league schools would wind up with less than they're getting now.

So, the ACC has chased itself into a full-blown dilemma. What began as a dream for grand growth has morphed into a nightmarish image problem. It would take an act of Congress, if not the Virginia state legislature, to restore the enviable reputation that the league once enjoyed.