Sunday, March 15, 2015

Notre Dame? Really?

OK, ACC basketball fans. How's it feel to have a traditional football power win your storied conference basketball tournament?

Notre Dame (i.e. Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, Knute Rocke, George Gipp - Ronald Reagan), perhaps the most famous of all American football colleges, came back in the second half of Saturday night's ACC Tournament championship to defeat North Carolina 90-82 with a flurry of 3-point baskets.

Several local TV commentators claimed it was an upset victory, but that just isn't so. The Irish are ranked No. 11 in the country and the Tar Heels were No. 19. Even in the ACC Tournament bracket seedings, Notre Dame (29-5) was the third seed, while UNC (24-11) was the fifth seed.

Based on that logic, Notre Dame was supposed to win.

Anyway, what gets me, is that Notre Dame is also supposed to be, above all else, a football school, and because of conference expansion, the Irish are playing in — and winning — the most highly regarded basketball conference tournament in the country. Even when it was a member of the Big East, Notre Dame had never won a basketball conference tournament title.

UNC hasn't won one since 2008.

I'm not sure what this means. Is the ACC, now bloated with 15 teams (minus one, Syracuse, which is undergoing an NCAA suspension for rules violations, which must have North Carolina shuddering in the shadow of its own serious academic improprieties with sanctions likely to come) watered down? It makes you wonder when Notre Dame beats both Duke and North Carolina on consecutive days to win the tournament.

Maybe it's well to remember that Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was once a Duke assistant to Mike Krzyzewski. (So maybe UNC lost to Duke again after all. Or not. I don't know).

I have to say, this game — this tournament — had an unnatural feel to it.

Back in my heyday as a sport writer for The Dispatch, I got to cover all the ACC Tournament games played in Greensboro from 1977 until 2000. When Georgia Tech entered the league in 1979, it gave the league eight teams, a very workable number that made sense. Rivalries were tight and personal; travel distances were reasonable. The tournament still had appeal to the common man who didn't need an entire paycheck to buy a book of tickets. Or concessions.

Even the addition of Florida State (a football school, for Pete's sake — think about that) in 1991 didn't seem to hurt.

But the addition of seven more teams (almost matching the number of the original ACC teams back in 1953) from 2004 to 2013 — in a conscious effort to make the ACC a super conference competitive with other super conferences (like the Big 10) in the country — has clearly changed the essence of what we once felt when the league had a more manageable eight teams.

I'm usually not one to complain about progress — the human condition, it seems, should always be about moving forward — but in this case expansion really seems to be addition by subtraction. What have we really gained? What have we lost? A once three-day tournament that now takes five days to resolve. Sheesh. Teams now arrive from all over the eastern seaboard. How does that kind of travel work for their fans?

(All you had to do was look at Wednesday's 9:30 p.m. who-cares game between Miami and Virginia Tech to see virtually no fans in the stands).

Expansion, of course, is all about money. Maybe the league really does have to get bigger to survive. But the pursuit of all that money is a dangerous thing. Expectations change. Focus changes. Corruption occurs.

Just ask Syracuse. And maybe even North Carolina.

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