As the ACC stages its 60th basketball tournament this weekend and celebrates the event’s unrivaled heritage, dramatic change looms.
The ACC on ESPN’s Big Monday? Consider it done, starting next season.
Occasional ACC tournaments in New York? The conference and the city’s two NBA arenas are intrigued.
Moving the ACC championship game from Sunday afternoon back to Saturday night? Also possible.
Commissioner John Swofford addressed those topics during an interview prior to Saturday’s tournament semifinals at Greensboro Coliseum.
His most definitive remarks were about the ACC taking over the Big East’s 7 p.m., game on ESPN’s Big Monday regular-season telecasts. With the so-called Catholic 7 schools taking the Big East name and formidable basketball product to Fox television, the ACC, already partnered with ESPN, became the logical replacement.
“It’s likely that we will be part of Big Monday,” Swofford said. “I think fans can anticipate that.”
With the ACC retaining its Sunday night package on ESPNU, the league will have a basketball presence every day except Friday.
“I don’t know that it would be six days every week,” Swofford said. “Certainly in some weeks.”
The Big East’s move to Fox also opens ESPN’s prime-time Saturday championship game window. The final Big East title game on ESPN, between Syracuse and Louisville, tipped at 8:30 p.m., Saturday, certainly a more desirable television slot than 1 p.m., Sunday.
“That would be going back to the future, if you will, because ironically we moved to a championship day on Sunday afternoon (in 1983) for television and exposure,” said Swofford, then the athletic director at North Carolina. “Either one can work, so we’ll see if it comes up.
“We’re comfortable with what we’re doing now. Of course, some of these developments (with the Big East) are fairly recent.”
As fans’ obsession with the NCAA tournament bracket and Selection Sunday mushroomed over the years, I’ve thought the ACC’s championship game got lost. As soon as the final horn sounded, if not earlier, everyone was focused on the field’s unveiling.
Watch SportsCenter on Sunday night and see how long you have to wait on ACC highlights. Odds are you’ll see endless bracket dissection first.
Swofford disagrees with the “gets lost” premise but said league officials have discussed whether a Saturday conclusion would allow the NCAA selection committee to better evaluate ACC teams and their seedings.
“(But) I think our game, and others (the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten) have been played for so long on Sunday afternoon that the selection committee has adjusted to that,” Swofford said. “I don’t think it’s detrimental to us. It’s one of the reasons we keep it as early (Sunday) as we do.”
With the arrival of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame next season, the ACC grows to 15 teams and a five-day tournament. Switching to a Saturday final would translate to a Tuesday start, which some (many?) prospective ticket-buyers would find untenable.
“There are pros and cons in either direction,” Swofford said. “Class time, the closeness to end of regular season. We play some Sunday games on that closing weekend, and I would not anticipate that changing.”
Nor does Swofford anticipate ACC schools, even with the new northern presence, severing the tournament’s North Carolina (49 of 60 tournaments in the state) ties. But the conference’s interest in occasionally taking the event north of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time is well-documented.
Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel fueled additional chatter last week with a column suggesting the ACC sign a 10-year agreement with New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Big East’s traditional home and the sport’s most-revered arena.
The ACC and Greensboro are contracted for the 2014 and ’15 tournaments, with Jim Boeheim’s table at Denny’s reserved. The conference could award the 2016-21 events as early as this spring, with Greensboro, Charlotte, Tampa, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., past destinations all, the other possible venues.
“There’s no loss of advice about what we should do with our tournament,” Swofford said. “The roots and tradition and history of the tournament are here and in Charlotte more than anywhere else. I don’t see our schools walking away from that aspect. …
“(But) we should look at New York. I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t look at New York. What that ultimately means, it’s just too early to know. There’s some interest there, I don’t think there’s any question about that, from (Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn) and from our standpoint, too.”
As I type, Greensboro Coliseum is electric as Miami and N.C. State clash in Saturday’s first semifinal. The subsequent North Carolina-Maryland collision will be no different, and abandoning that would be foolish.
But a conference that includes Boston College, and soon will welcome Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville – the latter arrives in 2014-15 and replaces Big Ten-bound Maryland -- also needs to gaze north. And nowhere better than Madison Square Garden -- on a March Saturday night.
“It would be pricier,” Swofford said of New York. “But it’s also the media center of the world and an exciting city to be in, and I suspect a lot of people would enjoy periodically visiting New York City for this quality of basketball tournament.”
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