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ACC expansion will change Maryland-Duke rivalry

College SportsCollege BasketballMaryland TerrapinsDuke Blue DevilsAtlantic Coast ConferencePittsburgh PanthersSyracuse Orange

When Maryland visits Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, there is bound to be at least one chant from the Duke students downplaying the basketball history between the two schools.

"Not our rivals," clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

"Not our rivals," clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

Some might view that as typical Duke snobbery, but as soon as Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the Atlantic Coast Conference, that is likely to be much more the case.

Expansion — a move designed to garner more at-large bids to the NCAA tournament as well as prevent some of the league's football powers from defecting to the Southeastern Conference — will turn Duke-Maryland into just another game.

The announcement last week that Pittsburgh will become Maryland's regular basketball partner — meaning that the schools will play a home-and-home series every year — was met with a range of emotions in College Park: everything from resignation at the changing college landscape to resentment that the Terps were again being treated as second-class citizens by those at the league office in Greensboro, N.C.

Television analyst Len Elmore, whose jersey number hangs in the rafters of Comcast Center, said that in figuring out the various partnerships of schools in what will be a 14-team league, "the consideration of rivalries should be paramount, that's what keeps the interest in the game of college basketball … what is lost on the people who make those decisions is the fact that this is what the fans want to see."

Maryland was not the only ACC school to see one of its most intense rivalries potentially diluted by the decision. In fact, North Carolina State fans certainly feel even more shunted after being put in a partnership with Wake Forest rather than North Carolina. Compared to the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels, the Terps and Blue Devils register barely a blip in terms of history on the rivalry Richter scale.

"We all understand that any traditionalist would like to see certain games guaranteed to be played twice a year, but you do gain a lot of good things," ACC commissioner John Swofford wrote in an email to The Sun. "I think without question fans throughout the conference will enjoy seeing Pitt and Syracuse, which have been two of the most successful programs in the country."

Swofford said the discussions among ACC coaches and athletic directors revolved around an 18-game conference model "as equitable as possible in which people saw and played one another as much as possible. With that as the guiding principle among the schools, there was a strong feeling across the board that the one partner approach was the best way to accomplish both priorities."

If anything, the retirement of longtime coach Gary Williams and the coaching change at Maryland this season made it easier for Swofford and others involved in the decision to make the move. New coach Mark Turgeon has witnessed the rivalry first-hand once — a 74-61 loss on Jan. 25 — and longtime Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski always has downplayed the significance of his team's games with the Terps.

"I'm in full agreement with what the league has done," Krzyzewski said on the league's media teleconference Monday. "The biggest mistake that we made when we added three teams eight or nine years ago is that we didn't brand the whole conference. We made up rivalries during that time by having two permanent partners, and that [meant] two teams were more important than the rest of the conference. I think that hurt us."

Krzyzewski said that the ACC should focus on helping Pittsburgh and Syracuse establish rivalries with other ACC schools. Repeating a line he used many times at the height of a rivalry with Maryland that saw the teams play four times in 2000-2001 — including in the NCAA tournament semifinals — Krzyzewski said that the Blue Devils have multiple rivals.

"For me, every team that plays against us has a rivalry," Krzyzewski said. "I respect the heck out of Maryland and Gary and what he did there and what Mark's trying to do in building his whole program. We can't look at that game as the end-all. We look at every game in the conference equally because everybody looks at us that way.

"That's the way I've felt the entire time, with utmost respect for Maryland because we've had great, great games. You want to have great games throughout the whole conference. Usually the team that plays against us, especially when we're on the road, or anywhere, it becomes a huge game for them. That's something we've been accustomed to for 25 years."

Turgeon said that he hasn't been caught up in what losing the home-and-home series with the Blue Devils will mean for the fans, but acknowledges "it's going to be tough" not to have a home game with Duke every year. Yet Turgeon remains hopeful that "there will be years when we still have 'em twice."

According to the proposed format, each school would play another that is not its permanent partner four times during a three-year cycle rather than six. Duke and North Carolina have remained permanent partners, a decision that was validated by Wednesday night's classic in which the Blue Devils erased a double-digit lead in the final minutes to beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.

Swofford said that fans just need to be patient and see how the rivalries evolve when Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the league. A timetable is not set, as the two schools are in the midst of negotiating terms of their departure from the Big East. .

"When you take the approach of looking at the full 14-member conference – the way our schools, athletic directors and coaches did – it's a little difficult to pick out certain games and set them aside outside of a reasonable and fair and equitable scheduling format," Swofford wrote in the email. "The games that will be created with those partners throughout the footprint will be very, very appealing and all rivalries will still be played at a minimum of once a year and there's no question they will continue to be special."

Elmore and others are hoping that the ACC might reconsider.

"Experimental decisions have been made right here to see if they can develop other rivalries," Elmore said. "Certainly you've got to wonder if they're looking at television markets, they're looking at the revenue-generators as opposed to looking at the rivalries and the history of the game. When push comes to shove, the best part about all this is that they can change their decision."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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