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ACC Expansion

June 21, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Look at ACC Expansion

by Phil Kasiecki

The NCAA gets asked to mediate. Harsh comments going back and forth between conference officials. Lawsuits. State governors, attorneys general and legislators state their feelings and get involved.

Over the last two months, the Atlantic Coast Conference has taken steps to expand to 12 teams by adding three from the Big East Conference, though now they may consider eventually take more teams and expand to 14 when this is all said and done. At first it looked like a foregone conclusion that could make a mess of the conference picture, with rampant speculation about what some other conferences like the Big Ten might do, as well as the future of Conference USA. Now, it’s simply a mess.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, which will not become clear for at least another week, one thing is certain: expanding to 12 teams is not in the best interest of college basketball.

The ACC, which recently hit its 50th anniversary, would like to expand to 12 teams to form two divisions and have a championship game in football for the extra revenue it would bring. The ACC is also hoping to get more than one BCS spot for at least the remainder of the original agreement with the BCS, hence the desire to first add Miami, a traditional national power and one that isn’t fading like Florida State has been the last few seasons.

As the move is purely football related, it points to a problem with college football that college basketball does not have: no playoff system. In college football, there is only a mythical national championship game. As such, conferences want to get as many BCS bowl bids as possible, and having a conference championship game does not hurt. In order to have two divisions and a championship game, a conference must have 12 teams.

Should the ACC expand, it would lose one thing it shares with too few basketball conferences now: a true round-robin format in the regular season. With nine teams, ACC teams play each other twice in the regular season before the conference tournament. If they expand by just one team, this can be preserved as they move the conference schedule to 18 games. As conferences go past 10 teams, this becomes impossible, meaning that there will be schedule imbalances. With divisions, there are “crossover” games; without divisions a few teams play each other just once, which brings inherent imbalances into the picture.

Ironically, the Big East is one conference that saw how divisions are not good for the NCAA Tournament this past year, hence their plan to become a one-division, 14-team conference next season. Conference USA already planned to be a one-division conference next season; it had three divisions at one time. Big East members Boston College and Seton Hall were left out of the NCAA Tournament despite 10-6 records in conference play and the Eagles winning the East Division. But the East Division was widely viewed as significantly weaker than the West, which along with a lack of eye-opening wins in non-conference play, ultimately left Boston College in the NIT.

The ACC would also face another issue with the expansion that some schools would not have an easy time dealing with: ACC Tournament tickets. There is a high number of guaranteed ticket holders every year via the member schools, which makes it a very tough ticket for anyone with no connection to the conference. With three more schools, this will be difficult to maintain unless the tournament permanently moves to bigger arenas such as the Georgia Dome – a move that plenty of fans may not be terribly fond of. If you have ever watched a basketball game in balcony seats in a domed stadium built for football, you know that actually seeing the game is an after-thought. For those who doubt it, just ask those who had upper deck seats at the Final Four at the Superdome this past year – some of which were approximately 420 feet from the court.

ACC expansion makes little to no sense from a basketball standpoint. But the almighty dollar can heal many wounds in the minds of some, hence the conference wants to do this for the revenue it would gain in football. Hopefully, the cooler heads will prevail, for the sake of all concerned in the ACC and college basketball. After that, one hopes that college football will develop a playoff system so that it will have a real national champion determined every year.

Other Offseason Notes

• Former Duke signee Kris Humphries didn’t surprise anyone when he opted to play close to home at Minnesota. He has appealed to the National Letter of Intent’s steering committee for eligibility in the 2003-04 season, and the result will be important for more people than just the Golden Gophers and their fans. Humphries asked for a release from his NLI despite there being no coaching change at the school and the school did not get punished by the NCAA – in other words, there were no special circumstances. If Humphries is allowed to play next season, it could be a dangerous precedent, as more players may try the same thing in future years. It would make the signing of a NLI effectively meaningless.

Kansas may have watched Roy Williams leave, but they haven’t fared too badly since then. Not only did they get one of the game’s fast-rising stars in the coaching world in Bill Self to replace him, but they also hired Lew Perkins to be their athletic director. Perkins spent the last 13 years as the athletic director at Connecticut, where the school had tremendous success. Among other things, it is hoped that he will help with fundraising to upgrade Allen Fieldhouse.

• On the subject of coaches, Nate Blackwell resigned last month as an assistant coach at Temple. A Philadelphia native and an All-American at Temple in the late 1980s, Blackwell was long thought to be the eventual successor to John Chaney, and with Chaney’s health this past year that time appeared to be coming sooner rather than later. At times, Blackwell was up off the bench while Chaney sat for much of the game, before Blackwell was nowhere to be found in March and got suspended. Chaney is still at Temple, but now his eventual successor isn’t so clear.

Gonzaga got another transfer that will keep the Bulldogs in great shape when they added former Georgetown guard Drew Hall. Hall can play both guard spots, but is expected to run the show when he becomes eligible and West Coast Conference Player of the Year Blake Stepp is done after this season.


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