Jury still out on ACC changes

I knew I’d get here eventually. All of the heartbreaking buzzer beaters, missed calls and unforced turnovers. All of those hours spent in front of the TV, hoping desperately that someone other than Duke would win the ACC Tournament. Now, here I am in the city most well-known for hosting it. Having just seen the women’s tournament last week and gearing up to see the men’s this week has put me in the sporting spirit that accompanies the beginning of warm weather.

In 23 years I have had the chance to view the ACC Tournament through different lenses. A casual observer, a mild Carolina fan, a UNC student, and now a recent graduate who has been jaded by all of the corruption in college sports. No matter what stage of life I’m in, my engines always get revved for this week-long celebration. How big a deal is it? The fact that teachers let us watch the game in class every year beginning in 6 th grade pretty much tells the whole story. It is a southern ritual that has become increasingly high profile as time has passed and the league has gone from eight to nine, 11 and now 15 teams! As you will find out in this week’s issue, the tournament has the largest economic impact on Greensboro and the Triad as a whole.

Sports tend to be personal for a lot of people, and for me, it is personal because of the images that are left behind. Some images will be burned into my head forever, such as Maryland’s Nik Caner-Medley fouling out in the 2004 ACC Championship Game and then covering his head in amazement on the sidelines as his team came back from a 12-point deficit to force overtime, win and end Duke’s run of five consecutive championships. Another lasting image was Tyler Hansbrough’s game winning shot against Virginia Tech in the 2008 semifinals with the clock winding down. It would send Carolina on to their second of backto-back championships. Or Tyler Zeller’s put back shot against Miami in 2011. There are just too many to count.

But with time, the tournament we have all come to know and love is going to have a different feel. It will head north to DC’s Verizon Center next year — also the host site in 2005. Then it will spend two years in the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which I have to say doesn’t feel ACC in the least bit. But then again, did it seem such as the ACC when Maryland left or when Syracuse and Pitt arrived?

Not only do I have fond memories of the nine-team days of the ACC, but the days when you could watch every game of the tournament on your local CBS affiliate. As someone who grew up in a home without cable this was a clear benefit for me. But the ACC Tournament’s, like so many others, have now joined the dark side and headed to ESPN. In the process they have taken the championship game with them to Saturday primetime. No longer will you have the excitement of the championship game coupled with the NCAA tournament selection show shortly afterward.

So far I have heard mixed reviews on the new look ACC. On one hand the league is more competitive, on the other hand it isn’t the ACC that once was. As for me, I am someone who doesn’t like change. I’m one of those “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” guys who elects to go with tradition as long as no harm is done. Ultimately, the rationale is that it’s good economics — the oft-sung refrain anytime an unpopular decision is made. But what people need to realize is that expansion carries more weight than just more teams and more competition. It means a new schedule, new TV network and new host cities on the way.

Other than the absence of Maryland, watching it in being played in Washington or New York will not be dramatically different from Greensboro. After all most fans watch it from their living rooms anyway. I can’t say it was a bad decision to go to 15 teams, but it certainly was a consequential one. I hope the upcoming three-year sabbatical that the tournament takes from the Tar Heel State makes people at least understand that the interaction of money and sports has a direct impact on the viewing experience. I will continue to accumulate memories for future ACC Tournaments, but they will take place within a new context. !