Change is in the ACC air
Posted May 14, 2014
As the Atlantic Coast Conference chugs towards the future and the huge gobs of money that seem to be sitting there for college sports -- even in an economic climate that is still somewhat flat -- the league has made news that alternately excited some and disappointed others. From moving the men's basketball tournament up one day to the scheduling announcement regarding football, the league certainly has made headlines this week.
For the record, I'm a fan of an 8-game ACC football schedule. The even number of games creates home and road equity, maintains room for those schools with annual, in-state, rivalry games -- especially in years when they play Notre Dame -- and allows for schedule flexibility for schools that need it. Everyone runs their own race among college football programs, and we would like it for Wake Forest and Boston College to not be aced out of a realistic shot at one of the 83 post season bowl games simply because a down cycle coincided with a ramped up conference schedule that saw them on the road too many times.
As for the argument that we need more conference games for a potential network and that inventory. I would argue that Wake-BC, or Duke-GT, or UVA-Louisville isn't as attractive to TV as you might think. The trick for the league to figure out really is how best to maximize the schedule they have, and one thing I would suggest to the powers that be -- okay, John Swofford -- is that giving us Virginia Tech vs. Boston College, or Clemson vs Georgia Tech EVERY YEAR is a waste of our time, and more importantly, ESPN's financial support.
Change the match ups. Rework the permanent partners. Reconfigure the divisions or, better yet, get rid of them entirely. Give television the best possible schedule you can, within the conference. Look at Virginia Tech's schedule this year. The Hokies' two games against the Atlantic Division are against the two teams most likely to finish 6th and 7th. Sorry if that hurts your feelings Wake and BC, and while it's certainly not a guarantee, that is the most likely scenario.
As it stands currently, the only two Virginia Tech conference games that are remotely interesting to television are those against Miami and North Carolina. We can, and must, do better than that within the 8-game schedule. And, John, please, please, PLEASE put that notion of non-conference games against conference opponents in a circular file somewhere. If that's what the coaches and athletic directors want, then just play a 9-game schedule and be done with it.
Conference games that don't count in the conference standings are idiotic and nothing more needs to be said about that subject.
The bigger news coming out of blue-collar Amelia Island, Florida this week dealt with the forward-thinking nature of the men's basketball tournament, the signature event for the ACC, even in this football-dominated age. Effective this March in Greensboro, the tournament will have opening round games on Tuesday, March 10 and the final on Saturday, March 14 -- in prime time.
The first thing we need to understand is that change is hard, unsettling in many ways, even if completely necessary. The fans will undoubtedly be impacted by the shift to a Saturday night final. For those intent on keeping up certain traditions and attending the entirety of the event, that means an additional day away from a normal routine on top of the fact that expansion has already extended time away from the office and other professional, or personal, obligations. In years when the tournament is played in non-North Carolina locales -- which I would argue should be no worse than a 50-50 division -- we will also have the added travel expense.
Lest I remind those of you in the warm under the collar category that this league doesn't belong to just you anymore. For that matter, it doesn't belong to me either, as a 16-year resident of the Triangle, I'm in the same position as you are. The Atlantic Coast Conference isn't Tobacco Road-centric any longer. Heck, it's not even ACCentric anymore. There are 15 teams in the league and only six of them are essentially charter members. We, here in North Carolina, no longer have the right to keep it all for ourselves. Our own convenience can not, nor should it, be considered a priority.
Thus, the move northward, to Brooklyn for two years in 2017 and 2018, and I would guess another, likely longer, stay in the not-too-distant future.
Is that an inconvenience for North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia residents? I would say it is. Is it disruptive to fans of Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh and Boston College? Well, for all of them, making annual treks to the Old North State was already an ordeal. Aren't they part of the league as well?
But, this needs to be about the hows and whys of a Saturday night final moreso than the wheres and whys of a New York City event. As much as we'd like to say the ACC tournament is still the be all, it hasn't been for years. The NCAA tournament's shadow looms so large once we get to Sunday that everything that happens that day gets lost in the furor of the Selection Show. Virginia hadn't won a conference title since the Carter Administration but were allowed about 150 minutes to savor the emotions before they were seeded, bracketed and picked to underachieve by the Tom Izzo Fan Club.
A Saturday night final allows the champ to at least go to sleep at night -- if that's at all possible -- with that feeling of euphoria without having it interrupted by the fact that some under-seeded, power conference school is waiting for us in the second round.
Here's another reality of the current; while the ACC has been playing quarterfinal games on Friday, the Big East (remember them?) was playing their semi finals the same night. And, over the last decade, those semi finals looked a lot more like Final Four meetings than anything else. Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Villanova, Pittsburgh, etc, spent a lot of time in New York those years and that should not have been lost on true college basketball fans.
We are true college basketball fans, right?
On top of that, walk into any sports bar or college basketball living room on Saturday nights gone by and you'd see what I saw in every city the ACC Tournament visited; The Big East Final on ESPN. And, with the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville and maybe others, that's what the future is bound to hold. Millions of people watching the ACC, the final Saturday night before the NCAA's. There is just no negative to a Saturday night finish.
These are times of change in the ACC and across college sports in general. And, while not all change is inherently good, it's healthy and does NOT have to be permanent. How about this, let's wait and see if it's a disaster before we condemn the ideas and those that support them. I was asked by a prominent and respected member of the media what color pom poms I was waving for Commissioner Swofford.
I'd like to think my arguments in favor of these developments are sound. I'm open to hearing opposing views. Too often, however, we remain rooted in the past like the sacrifice bunt, and by the time we realize that it doesn't actually increase our chances of scoring a run, it's too late. The side's been retired and we lost the game. The ACC needs to keep moving forward, trying new ideas when possible.
As for my pom poms, I told my friend that they were Navy and Gold for our new friends in South Bend.
"Send a volley cheer on high, shake down the thunder from the sky."