Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Elite journals bemoan death of 'real' ACC

There's not much Clemson football news out there today, but there are a couple of stories of note about how the ACC's expansion will ruin the league's basketball tournament.

The first is from the venerable political journal The New Republic. The second is from The New York Times.

Speaking as a Clemson fan, I think they're both wrong.

ACC expansion will end the long era of the league's political and administrative domination by UNC, and to a lesser extent, by Duke. That will be a positive development. Yes, the ACC has always been very "cozy," to use a word that crops up in both articles, but only if viewed from the perspective of the state of North Carolina. (And I write that as a North Carolina native who has lived for 32 of my 37 years in the state.) One man's "cozy" or "quaint" is another man's "insular" or "provincial" -- or even "exclusionary."

UNC and Duke have enjoyed tremendous success in basketball, but they've used that success to lord over the ACC for years. Witness the fact that the two schools voted against the league's expansion, a move which threatened to scuttle the whole process. That made it clear that they were only interested in protecting their dominant positions. They apparently didn't care about enhancing the profile of the league as a whole.

Another benefit of expansion: No longer will the ACC be known only as a "basketball conference." Finally, the handful of ACC schools that have achieved great success in football will be able to remove that millstone from around their necks. Of course, the league will benefit financially from football in the form of bowl tie-ins and the like, but it now will garner much more national respect in the sport.

But basketball fans needn't worry. ACC expansion will not harm the ACC Tournament. How can it? It's the premiere event of its kind in the nation. It will continue to be a big draw for TV -- and now it will attract even more interest in a couple of huge markets. For the foreseeable future, the "Tobacco Road" teams will continue to dominate in basketball. The tournament will be "uncozy" on Thursday only, when the newcomers clog up the play-in games. By the Friday quarterfinals, it will return to its familiar rhythms.

The bottom line: ACC expansion is a good thing -- financially and competitively. Its negatives exist mainly in the minds of writers overcome by sentimentality and nostalgia.

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