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Thoughts On The ACC Tournament In NYC

May 16, 2013


I was fully prepared not to bother addressing yesterday’s buzz about New York City possibly entering the rotation of ACC Tournament sites. I assumed it would happen at some point anyway, given the (former) Big East’s demise and the ACC’s footprint extending more appreciably northward. It made—and still makes—some sense.

But you know me…all it takes is some offhand, ill-thought-out slight against the things I hold sacred to set me off. And in the midst of the ACCT-to-NYC news cycle, the N&O’s Laura Keeley did just that:

Whoaaaaaholdup. As a native North Carolinian, it was hard for me to not find those tweets jarring.

Subsequent tweets in Keeley’s timeline suggest she isn’t simply interested in hitting up NYC once every few years: she feels like it needs to exit Greensboro permanently in favor of big-market locales.

There are myriad reasons this Twitter barrage from Ms. Keeley—the Duke beat reporter for the N&O, by the way, in case you aren’t familiar—set me off just like a clumsy Goodman or Parrish dig would, but I think what realllllly twisted the knife deep in my core was the “Act the part” tag line on Tweet #2.

Here’s how my North Carolina brain translated that tweet with that tag line: “Hey North Carolina. I know college basketball is something y’all like and are good at, but lookit, after 60 years of piddling around down here in the south, the ACC finally wised up, added some real players in college basketball and has now made the big time! The rest of the country finally is paying attention to the ACC! So let’s not let this backwards-ass hick state hold us back anymore…it’s time to go to the place where all dreams are made of—NEW YORK CITY! Then and only then will the ACC act the part of the big-time college basketball conference it now is!'”

With all due respect to Ms. Keeley, who does an excellent job covering Duke and I’m sure is a nice enough person, but forgive me if I don’t bow down and kiss the rings of Mayor Bloomberg and Jay-Z.

While the glitz and glamour of New York City once held a lot of appeal to me, I’m old enough now to know that—while certainly the most recognizable city in America (and presumably the easiest to find on a map)—NYC is not the end-all-be-all epicenter of the Universe. It’s a fun town to visit, and I bet if you can afford the obscenely high rent, it’s also a neat place to live when you’re young and single. But when you enter the REAL real world—the one with a spouse and kids and if-I-don’t-earn-a-living-my-kids-starve kind of responsibilities—you come to appreciate a state like NC that much more, where you can own a house with a backyard in a neighborhood with nice, safe schools and host a pig pickin if you’re so inclined.

My point being, the Big Time ain’t that big time. Not with some perspective.

Which, of course, I feel like Keeley lacks when she belittles North Carolina and the South as second-rate to the next level markets and venues she feels ACC now deserves to be a player in. So what if some schmuck in Sheboygan can’t find Greensboro on a map? Guess what: I can’t find Sheboygan on a map. But I’ve heard of it. Just like folks in Sheboygan have heard of Greensboro.

And if you follow college basketball AT ALL, you know that Greensboro IS the ACC; that’s the ACC home, as it always has been and as it always should be.

I feel like Ms. Keeley, in her earnest desire to see the ACC Tournament relocated away from podunk Greensboro to bigger markets, completely ignores the fact that the ACC doesn’t need NYC to elevate its profile. Not now. Not ever.

In the 80’s and 90’s, when State, Duke and Carolina won five national titles in 11 years, was the North Carolina-centric ACC not viewed as the most dominant force in college basketball? When it was an eight-team, regional league confined to the dirty, dirty wasteland of the South, did the ACC not boast the most impressive collection of college basketball coaches on the planet?

ACC Basketball ain’t Zach Galifinakis leaving rural North Carolina hoping to make it big in show business. The ACC in the 80’s and 90’s WAS the business. If you were a fan of college basketball back then, you knew the ACC, you knew its teams, its coaches and its players. And you also knew its heart and sole was firmly rooted in Greensboro, North Carolina. Somehow, amazingly, the ACC did just fine back then.

Laura wants to paint the scenario that not embracing NYC or big-time markets will be bad for the bottom line. I would remind her that—despite our passion for college basketball here in NC—the sport only accounts for 1/5th of the ACC’s television contract value. The other 80% of its worth is based on football properties. So whatever net gain that might come from permanently hosting the ACC Tournament in NYC or other major markets wouldn’t ultimately amount to much of a bump in the overall picture. Yes, the bottom line matters, but even if you could somehow quantify NYC’s monetary impact and prove it doubled the existing value of ACC basketball, you’ve still only doubled a fraction of the overall monetary pie.

And color me skeptical about a possible move to NYC having ANY sort of impact on the ACC’s brand anytime in the near future, let alone doubling it. Elite recruits are going to go to elite programs regardless of where they are or where they hold their postseason tournament. Maybe over time you might convince a few college basketball fans that NYC is ACC country, but would the folks in the Big Apple ever feel the ownership of the league that North Carolinians do? Highly, highly doubtful.

Which brings me back around to my initial beef—Keeley thumbing her nose at the very folks who love and support the ACC. We North Carolinians love the ACC in a way unlike residents in any other state in its footprint. ACC Basketball is a point of pride for our state, and we claim ownership of the ACC Tournament by wheeling TVs into classrooms, closing up our businesses and stalking fans of the schools that lose in the opening rounds to pick up their unused ticket books at a discount to jam-pack Greensboro Coliseum with fans of the local teams. It makes sense, of course, given The Big Four comprised fully half of the league members at one time.

Apart from NASCAR and pork BBQ, is there anything quite as identifiable with North Carolina as ACC Basketball?

If you make a push to rip away the ACC Tournament from North Carolina in favor of bigger markets to chase the Almighty Dollar, you’ll take away something central to our DNA. And you’ll justify it in the harshest way possible: by saying it’s too good for you anymore. The ACC is now a 10; you, North Carolina—you’re maybe a 7, in good lighting.

It’s akin to the guy who marries his high school sweetheart, strikes it rich in the DotCom world, then ditches her for the hot piece of ass everyone expects a guy of his wealth and stature should be with. Don’t we despise those kinds of people? Shouldn’t we despise those kinds of people? Yet isn’t that precisely what Keeley is hoping the ACC will do—trade in their longtime spouse for a trophy wife who’ll look good on the red carpet?

The ACC doesn’t need NYC to raise its profile. It won’t boost our bottom line appreciably and it won’t be good for business. What the ACC needs more than anything is for teams outside of Duke and Carolina to win at a high level, just like they did back in the 80’s and 90’s when the ACC—despite being weighed down by the shackles of a backwards state in a backwards region adored by a backwards people—was as big time as any college basketball brand has ever been. A few tournaments up in NYC are fine every now and then, but the ACC is, has been and should always be a North Carolina-centric league, no matter how many listens of “Empire State Of Mind” might convince you otherwise.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott permalink
    May 16, 2013 2:37 pm

    Don’t under sell the draw of s hot piece of ass. But you are spot on. A permanent move to NYC would a disaster. Did it save the Big East?

  2. Bobby permalink
    May 16, 2013 4:09 pm

    Of course Keeley has an “anywhere but NC” bias, she works for the N&O. The belief that they’re “better” than the rest of us backwards NC hillbillies is endemic to that rag.

  3. January 17, 2015 12:02 pm

    With the ACC league expansion, traditions need to change as well to grow. I’m fine with Greensboro as the host sight every other year, with the off-years being rotated around the regional geography. That means, Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa, NYC, Philadelphia, and even DC. I have been to several tournaments in Greensboro, but also to DC, Atlanta, Tampa and Charlotte. They all showcased the ACC well and it gives the fans from the outer reaches of the conference a chance for local travel from time to time. Adding large northern cities would attract even more good players to play at an ACC School.

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