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Woe From The N&O

Dick Vitale and the Raleigh News and Observer would seem to be in agreement. ESPN’s lead basketball jabberer and the RTP’s contribution to good liberal bias in journalism claim to have seen the future of college basketball and it resides in Providence , Rhode Island , rather than Greensboro , North Carolina . According to both, the Big East is a better basketball conference than the ACC. Horrors!

The N&O seems to have come to that conclusion through its usual solid investigation. It has sifted through that mountain of evidence supplied by the ACC existing one year as an eleven-team league and not quite another in its final, twelve-team configuration and pronounced conference expansion a failure. It just didn’t work.

This turn of events has produced no small amount of high dudgeon around the N&O. Expansion failed because it allowed that evil Yankee BE to become a better basketball conference than the beloved ACC. Proof of that is certainly supplied by Duke’s loss to Georgetown and the Devils being replaced at the top of the polls this week by UConn. According to the perceptive and declarative N&O, that it happened one week is solid proof that such will be the case for all eternity. The mighty News and Observer has spoken!

It seems that Mikey got the best of Little Johnny after all. The BE boss man is generally regarded as a fool by many who have had dealings with him and his league, a myopic hoophead more suited to training geese than running a major athletics enterprise. According to the N&O, however, that is not the case. In their view, Mikey concocted a long-range sinister plan that suckered Little Johnny right in, foisting Virginia Tech and Miami off on the ACC so that the BE could add well-rounded, funded and supported athletic programs such as Marquette and DePaul and in the end become the batter conference. Machiavelli pales in comparison.

The Big East is now the superior basketball league to the ACC. In this proclamation the N&O is joined by Dick Vitale. As he sits in his posh Florida abode attempting to locate Blacksburg on a map and polishing his glass eye, ESPN’s chief screamer no doubt read the N&O’s sounding of the alarms with head movements resembling those of a Coach K bobble-head doll. DickieV has spent every available moment of the basketball season thus far bellowing at the top of his lungs that 18-19 of the 16 BE teams were “stone cold locks, baby” to be among the 95-100 teams he annually claims are “already in, baby” to the NCAA tournament’s field of 64. You can’t beat DickieV for thoughtful analysis.

You also can’t beat the N&O for pinpointing the cause for the ACC’s loss of basketball hegemony. The main reason, it would seem, is that Duke and NC State will not play twice in basketball this year. Who knew that the ACC’s fifty-plus years of excellence resided on the foundation of the Blue Devils and Wolfpack conducting a home and home in basketball? I feel sure that was news to them over in Chapel Hill .

A grumpy Ned Barnett blamed this rending of the ACC’s basketball round-robin fabric on that dastardly football. You know, football. That is the sport the N&O quits reporting on each year after the State-Carolina game. This year, that meant that by the end of September, the N&O began ignoring football in order to devote column inches to speculation on whether Duke would remain undefeated during its inexorable march to the basketball national championship, with the general consensus being they would. Like much in the rest of that paper, that seems to have been wrong.

Of course, in its crusading zeal to alert readers that a lousy football expansion had diluted the purity of ACC basketball and caused a tragic loss of the basketball round-robin, a calamity of such monumental proportions that it could only be matched if the Earth were to tilt off its axis and begin careening out of the solar system, the N&O did overlook a few things. I’m sure deadline pressures contributed.

The most glaring omission in the N&O’s exhaustive study was the reason ACC expansion became necessary. That would be football, the sport for which the N&O holds great disdain, perhaps a contributing factor in the rank inability of the ACC’s Big Four to develop a power. Little Johnny had been informed by television partners ABC and their ESPN sidekick that the quality of the ACC’s was not sufficient to continue the hefty rights’ fees that fattened the bottom lines of membership. Something had to be done to provide for more attractive games and was.

The free market was about to punish the ACC for not developing a televised football appeal akin to its highly-successful basketball one. The punishment would be in the form of reduced football revenues to each school, cash used to pay for such things as scholarships and coaches salaries. That is how the free market works, although the entire concept is an anathema to the good liberals of the N&O. The notion of free enterprise is about as popular around their offices as a Heterosexual Pride parade would be down Franklin Street . Money to pay for things doesn’t have to be earned; it is simply there.

The ACC has earned enough from its large new ABC/ESPN football contract to continue its annual revenue disbursements that rank among the highest in the country, exceeded only by the football deal held by the SEC. Even the supersized BE with its Li’l E writing off of football doesn’t come close.

Ah, there’s that football thing again. The N&O in its parochial view of the ACC simply ignores the bald fact that football revenues out-pace basketball ones and are pulling away. Many more people watch football, both in person and on television, than do basketball. That might not be the case in the geographic area that supports N&O circulation, but there is a whole another world outside those borders, one that now contains two-thirds of the ACC membership. Those people like football. The N&O may in its mission statement proclaim to be a beacon or progressive thought, but when it comes to the major trend sweeping college athletics, it is a staunch proponent of Luddism.

Examples abound of the effect ACC expansion has had on the region, including that covered by the N&O. NC State and Duke did not play this year in football, either. Instead, the Wolfpack played Virginia Tech in a season-opening prime time extravaganza beamed nationwide by ESPN2. Somehow I doubt that a State-Duke football game would have generated the same excitement, exposure or revenue to the ACC.

ESPN and its networks has been a very good friend to Virginia Tech. To say that Tech appears on ESPN a lot is understatement on a par with claiming that the editorial stance of the N&O is only a little liberal. Tech has made multiple appearances on ESPN every season for years and brought that along with them to the ACC. About the only ACC game Tech played this year that was not on ESPN was the one against Duke [well, the Georgia Tech game was not because it was on ABC]. The overall ineptitude of Tech football was not the reason ESPN passed on that one. It was picked up by regional partner Jefferson-Pilot, in large part because last year’s Duke-Tech game set J-P ratings records. All of those people were not watching to observe Duke’s overall football excellence.

The N&O blamed the loss of the ACC’s essence- a second Duke-State basketball game, on Duke playing instead at Virginia Tech. It seemed to elude the N&O, but Thursday night’s Duke-Tech contest will be televised by ESPN. Imagine that. Last year’s game between the two at Tech was televised by ESPN2. Last December’s game at Cameron was shown nationally by FSN. Both produced rather remarkable endings, the kind coveted by sports programmers. Tech is certainly giving Duke better competition in basketball than the Devils are providing Tech in football. The television networks have noticed.

ESPN is sending its heavy gun to Tech. This will be the first appearance by Dick Vitale. I’m sure he has checked with Gameday’s Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit to determine which of the bars that line Blacksburg’s Main Street they most frequent. During football season, ESPN practically operates a branch office at Tech. And now basketball is getting in on the act.

Of course, DickieV might be on the Biggie East bandwagon, but he is still known for his fondness for the True Blue. If anybody is actually listening rather than muting his blabbering and tuning a Tech or Duke radio affiliate, they will hear what is likely to be a non-stop ode to Coach K’s genius, an at-times over-the-top tribute to the excellent program built at Duke by Coach K. Vitale will earn that ‘DukieV’ moniker.

It is also likely that DickieV might take his admiring eyes off of Coach K for a few seconds and notice his surroundings. This is not a vintage Tech team by any stretch of the imagination. It is wracked by injury and serious illness and is very close to seeing its season get completely away. I am not sanguine about its chances against an irritated Duke team.

Cassell Coliseum is an aging facility that lacks the modern amenities desired by the top basketball recruits, making the construction of a very good basketball program at Tech a very difficult undertaking. It does have one thing going for it, however. When full, as it will be against Duke, its very low ceiling and steeply-rising bleachers can present a most intimidating atmosphere. When it is rocking, as it was last year against Duke and hopefully will be again, it can out-Cameron DickieV’s beloved Cameron. The father of JJ Redick certainly thought so last year as he whined about students rushing past him for the court after Tech won as he ran to hide behind the skirts of Sharon McCloskey. You want trouble, Ken, go to WVU or Maryland . If you want a great atmosphere, come back to Cassell.

It would seem that while they might not have much to show for this season so far, the Tech basketball program is contributing a bit to the ACC, meaning some exciting games and an ESPN presence. That network doesn’t seem to be noticing that Duke is playing at Virginia Tech instead of NC State. It did notice that NC State this year in football played Tech instead of Duke.

The ACC might be the weaker basketball conference this year and probably is. So what? Despite the panic displayed by the N&O, these things run in cycles. Check back in a year when some of the youthful ACC teams have matured a bit. One thing is for certain: the ACC has a much brighter athletics future than does the gerry-rigged contraption that is Biggie E basketball and Li’l E football. The ACC will still be around in a decade.

There is a piece of advice that should be given to those at the N&O aghast at what expansion has done to their quaint little basketball conference: get over it. ACC basketball is still going strong even if Duke is not #1 this week. And who knows, one of these days Big John or Chuckie might make it to Jacksonville .

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