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Coach K’s Weak Counter-Argument To An 18-Game ACC Schedule

May 17, 2011

Forgive me for not noticing this sooner; perhaps it's already been beaten into a pulp and I just missed it. Perhaps it got buried under all the hub bub of Gary Williams's sudden retirement.

But at the ACC Meetings that took place the weekend of the 7th at Fernandina Beach, FL, one of the items on the docket was expanding the ACC conference schedule from 16 games to 18 games.

It's a move I've long been in favor of. While it doesn't completely ease the imbalance of the post-expansion conference schedules—in which teams face less than half their foes twice and half of them only once—it would increase the number of twice-played teams from five to seven and decrease the single-faced foes from six to four. 

And you'd think a guy like Mike Krzyzewski—a staunch opponent of expanding the league from nine teams last decade because it robbed the league of a true "round robbin" system—would be in favor of bringing more balance and parity to the ACC schedule, right?

nnnnNope.

From this McClatchy Publishing article leading up to the meetings:

 

"Anything we can do to re-establish the perception of our league needs to be discussed," Greenberg said.

More conference games?

Greenberg declined to discuss any specific ideas for the future of the league.

But Swofford confirmed that the ACC is closely studying the issue of expanding the schedule of conference games from 16 to 18.

The 16-game conference schedule once allowed each team in the nine-team ACC to play each opponent twice. Since expansion, coaches have been reluctant to increase the number of conference games for fear of strengthening their schedules to the point where they would be reluctant to play high-profile nonconference opponents.

"We're a one-time-zone league," Krzyzewski said in February. "You've got to give us a chance to play in different time zones, different places, get out and play different teams from throughout the country. That's what made this conference. This conference didn't become what it is because we stayed isolated within this region."

In 2010-11, the Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 played 18-game conference schedules. Teams in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC played 16 conference games.

Hmm…

Mike, let's take a quick look at your 2010-2011 schedule and see just how many times you left the Eastern time zone and "[got] out and play[ed] different teams from throughout the country" last year, spreading the gospel of ACC Basketball across this great land:

  1. There was the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic in Kansas City, MO, where you faced off against Marquette and Kansas St. Well done.
  2. That was followed up four days later with a trip to Oregon to face the Fightin' Phil Knights at their place. Good stuff.
  3. And then…well…um…

That was pretty much it for regular season non-Eastern time zone games, Mike. You took one other trip out west during the NCAA Tournament, but that was the committee's doing, not your own.

Oh sure, you scheduled a couple of trips outside the state of North Carolina. Those, of course, were your annual trips up to the greater NYC area (Rutherford, NJ, then later in the year to Madison Square Garden) to cater to your Big Apple contingency.

And then there were the league-mandated trips away from N.C. to face conference foes. Can't really dodge those. Florida twice (FSU, Miami), Virginia twice (UVA, VT) and a jaunt to College Park, Maryland.

But Mike, let's take a look at how many games your jet-setting, not-isolated-to-this-region ballclub played WITHIN North Carolina's borders: 21. The regular season schedule consisted of 31 games, not counting exhibition games or the ACC Tournament, meaning a full 2/3rds of the schedule was played within 80 miles of your campus.

Further, if we consider the ACC handles the schedules of the conference members, then your scheduling control (the part you argue will be greatly impacted by two more conference games) is limited to your non-conference foes. 

And of the 15 non-conference games you negotiated to participate in with other schools, nine of them were hosted at Cameron Indoor. A 10th was held against UNC-G at the Greensboro Coliseum…filled with mostly Duke fans.

Here are those 10 games:

  1. Princeton
  2. Miami (Ohio)
  3. Colgate
  4. Michigan State
  5. Bradley
  6. St. Louis
  7. Elon
  8. UNC-Greensboro (Greensboro Coliseum)
  9. UAB
  10. Temple

Temple was no slouch last year, and certainly the Michigan State game was a marquee matchup. But the average RPI of those remaining eight teams was 136.5 (buoyed greatly by the top-50 RPIs of Princeton and UAB).

What I'm driving at here Mike is this: If you want to argue against adding two more conference games because it'll rob you of one more night's worth of ticket revenue, then fine, have at it. That's a legitimate concern for all the conference schools, but perhaps even moreso for a school like Duke that plays in an extremely small venue but can command extremely high ticket prices. One game x 9,000 seats at name-your-price is a significant chunk of change. (And given you are pulling down close to $5 mill/year, I'm sure the Iron Dukes can use every penny of it.)

But your argument that taking away two non-conference games robs you and your conference mates of the ability to travel to other time zones to gain more exposure for the league rings hollow, at best. At worst, it seems like a poorly thought out excuse made up on the fly to come up with a reason—ANY reason—to explain why you and your administration will avoid at all costs losing two cash-cow non-conference patsies you and every school loads up on to fill the coffers and win columns.

At a time when nearly every booster is tapped out and every penny counts, I know a lot of coaches like yourself are averse to making any sort of change that might damage that cash flow in the short-term, but I ask you—and those coaches and ADs that side with you—to consider how losing two non-conference home games now might result in a net-positive financial state years down the road.

Here's how: Buck what you think is conventional wisdom and retain your marquee non-conference matchups and ditch two patsies. If the league follows suit, the two more conference games played by every team should raise the overall RPI of the league accordingly. Higher RPI across the board should result in greater respect for the ACC in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee, resulting in a few more NCAA Tournament bids. Since these teams would face a greater overall strength of schedule, teams should be more battle-tested and better prepared to advance deeper into the Tournament. And since the NCAA doles out its conference "winnings," for lack of a better term, based on how many teams from the league get in and how far they advance, that slice of the "winnings" pie should increase in the near future.

And I get it Mike…perhaps your slice of that pie won't completely offset the financial loss from one of your non-conference tomato cans. But for schools like State or Maryland or UNC with large venues that struggle to sell out games against the stiffs, an extra sold-out home game against a conference opponent like Maryland or Wake Forest or Clemson, in addition to the increase in NCAA revenue, might be enough to offset losing one patsy from their schedules.

And of course all of that is before you start considering the intangible gains to the overall health of the league that come from an 18-game, more-equally-balanced schedule.

But if none of that sways you, and you stand firm on your position that two more conference games would damage the ACC, please don't try to package the proposal as damaging to The Great ACC Traveling Basketball Show's ability to market this conference. And frankly, the ACC seems quite content to stay close to home and market itself as The Conference Containing Duke And Carolina, Plus 10 Also-Rans, so what do you care?

Trips to the Central, Mountain and Western time zones aren't required to return the ACC to greatness. Which is a good thing Mike, since—despite your cries at how critical they are—these trips are rarely made by you and your conference mates.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    May 17, 2011 6:43 pm

     I’m surprised that Duke doesn’t travel out of this time-zone more often… I do think that playing more conference games is a losing proposition – it’s just beating each other up for little nationwide respect. It’s much better to travel across the country and play non-cupcake teams who can also raise one’s RPI.

    • Anonymous permalink*
      May 17, 2011 7:42 pm

      travel, I hear what you’re saying about beating up on one another, but the premise is the ACC schools replace two patsies with two conference games. If they maintain the key non-conference games on the slate and add two more quality opponents, everyone’s RPI should rise accordingly. And as the RPI of the teams within the league increase, any losses within the league should hurt teams less than they would before when teams were dragging around deflated RPI ratings.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    May 18, 2011 4:15 pm

    That is a weak argument from Coach K.

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