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Teel Time: ACC's New York party fuels talk of playing basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden

By David Teel

2:43 AM EDT, July 2, 2013

NEW YORK

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Madison Square Garden has tradition and the buzz of Broadway. The Barclays Center has state-of-the-art amenities and trendy Brooklyn. So which is the preferred and more likely destination for the ACC basketball tournament’s inevitable debut north of the Mason-Dixon Line?

Those were among the New York-centric questions Monday as the ACC welcomed new members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame with events throughout the city.

Ever the negotiator, Commissioner John Swofford revealed little. But there’s no hiding his coaches’ choice.

“You ask any kid,” said Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, part of Monday’s news conference, “I don’t care if he’s playing at Miami, Clemson, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, BC, Virginia Tech, they want to play in the Garden. They want to experience that. … You talk to the kids in the Big East, some of their greatest memories are playing in New York City.”

The Big East has staged its tournament at Madison Square Garden for 31 consecutive seasons, and even as the conference’s core, which included Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, fractures, remnants headlined by Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova hope to retain the venue.

New Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, a former Virginia basketball player, said as much in a letter to fans Monday as the conference opened for business.

“The Big East tournament being in New York was a big contributor to the growth of the (league),” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.

The Big East and Garden announced an extension in October, but that was before Louisville departed for the ACC and the Big East’s Catholic schools seceded and joined with Xavier, Butler and Creighton. What no one has said with clarity is where that contract stands presently and what, if any, are the escape clauses.

The ACC tournament is scheduled for its traditional home, Greensboro, N.C., the next two seasons, but after more than a year of internal discussions about New York, Swofford is eager for resolution.

A decision “needs to be made reasonably soon,” he said, “because you’ve got to be reserving arenas and maybe, in terms of the timing, you’ve got to be reserving hotel space.”

Some in New York advocate reconstructing and moving the Garden, built in 1968, from its current home above Penn Station. But in its current state, the building pales to Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets’ new NBA home.

Site of last week’s NBA draft, Barclays is contracted to host the Atlantic 10 tournament each of the next four years. Compared to the Garden, what it boasts in bells and whistles, Barclays lacks in surrounding hotels and entertainment.

Regardless, ACC coaches prefer MSG, and sources said they voiced that opinion forcefully during the league’s annual May meetings.

“If we go to Madison Square Garden, it will be the greatest exposure we’ve ever gotten as a league in the New York metropolitan area, where the recruiting ground is very fertile,” Miami coach and New York native Jim Larranaga told me last season. “Playing in the Mecca of college basketball, Madison Square Garden, is a thrill for every college player.”

As a player at Providence, Larranaga competed in the 1968 Holiday Festival at the Garden against No. 1 UCLA and Holy Cross.

“It’s not just coaches from the Northeast,” North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried told the ACC Digital Network. “When you look at a strategy of staking a claim that you are the best basketball league, you can’t replace the Garden and the media market of New York City. …

“I would like to see it happen. I like being in North Carolina. I like playing it one hour away. Selfishly, for me, it’s better to be in Greensboro. But I think all of us in the league, we have to look out for what’s best for the league. … I want to recruit the best players in the country, not just along the eastern seaboard. New York can change that. Being on that platform, on that stage, could potentially be something very strong for the ACC.”

As Brey, a former Duke assistant coach, acknowledged, the wild cards are how long a commitment MSG or Barclays would demand, and how long a commitment the ACC would make. Three years? Five? Ten?

I’m not sure what the right answer is, or if there is a right answer. But I do believe the tournament needs to be in New York and, regardless of venue, should play its semifinals Friday night and championship game Saturday night instead of the current Saturday afternoon semis and Sunday final.

“It’s fitting that we’re here today because this is a basketball city,” Brey said, “and it’s part of our footprint now. … If you’re going to be the best basketball conference, to rotate through this city, you almost have to. No one respects the tradition of Greensboro more than (I), but some combination of Greensboro and New York City would be very powerful.”

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including one on Monday's festivites.