“Of all the implications of expansion, when you look at scheduling for football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, the ACC (basketball) tournament is the one that concerns me the most,” said Littlepage, Virginia’s athletic director.
“There’s just not an easy way of holding a 14-team tournament, looking at the history of the tournament and what it’s meant to the ACC.”
The men’s basketball tournament has been the conference’s signature event since its 1954 inception. When Littlepage first attended, as a Virginia assistant coach during the 1970s, the tournament was a tidy, seven-team, three-day event that packed Greensboro Coliseum.
Expansion to nine schools with Florida State’s 1991-92 arrival extended the tournament to four days, where it remains today after growth to 12 schools in 2005-06. But even with more schools, attendance has declined in a sour economy, especially for the tournament’s first day.
Including all 14 teams in a single-venue tournament would require a fifth day, or early-morning games on other days.
A possible format: The top four seeds from the regular season would receive byes into Friday’s quarterfinals, while the bottom four collided in two play-in games Wednesday. Those two survivors would join seeds 5-10 in Thursday’s first round.
But with current attendance spotty for Thursday, what would it be like for Wednesday? Might those two games be better staged on campus sites?
Or: Stage six first-round games Thursday – hello mimosas and a 9 a.m. tipoff – with the winners joining the top two seeds in Friday’s quarters.
“We have not talked about that in any detail at all,” Littlepage said. “The only discussion about the tournament is we have some big decisions that have to be made.”
Perhaps the biggest is whether to include all 14 teams. When Big East basketball was at 14 teams from 2001-04, only the top 12 qualified for the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Here was then-commissioner Mike Tranghese’s explanation: “Maybe I'm a traditionalist, but everybody is talking about entitlement. We've got 14 teams. If you can't play your way into the top 12 spots ... we're not talking about something that's insurmountable. If you're … 13th or 14th in this league, you've got much bigger problems than not going to New York City.”
ACC member Virginia Tech played in the Big East then, and three times the Hokies were shut out of New York. In 2003-04, coach Seth Greenberg’s first season, Tech qualified for its only Big East tournament.
Greenberg said “all teams” belong in the ACC tournament. “That’s what a league is all about.”
Big East basketball has since expanded to 16 schools, and all qualify for the five-day conference tournament at the Garden.
The ACC includes only eight of its 12 teams in the league baseball tournament, but Littlepage opposes the concept for basketball.
“I can’t see (excluding teams),” he said. “I don’t think that would be in the best interests of the conference. One of the things that’s unique about the ACC is the feeling that most of what we’ve done, we’re all in this together, we share and we’re collegial. … Basketball is different.”
* On other expansion matters, I asked Littlepage about a notion floated last week by the New York Times about Notre Dame joining the ACC for sports other than football, in which the Irish treasure their independence.
“It’s a difficult thing for me to feel that helps our conference,” he said. “Again, a guiding principle of the conference is that we’re all in it together, we’re all in. … I would just have personal reservations.”
* On whether he thought the ACC might lose schools were it not proactive in adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh: “I do not,” Littlepage said. “In casual conversation and other conversations I had over two months, probably from July to mid-September or so, I never felt at any time the ACC was about to undergo defections. …
“In any number of conversations there was never any hesitancy on the part of an AD, faculty rep, president, on the part of any school, other than to affirm its strong belief in the ACC.
“I know there were rumors about this school and that school going to the SEC … but there was never a time I lost any sleep about the position of the 12 … members. I never felt as though any of the 12 members were looking for anything other than to creating and maintaining the strongest ACC possible.”
For more from not only Littlepage but also Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver on future ACC basketball and football scheduling, check out today's print column linked here.
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