Pro-expansion thoughts from a college basketball traditionalist

I’ve been meaning to post for a while on the recent addition of Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC and the looming possibility of further expansion as a part of a major college sports realignment.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to many aspects of my life, and that certainly influences my perspective on college basketball. After the most recent expansion to add Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College, I was admittedly among those expressing remorse for losing the nine-team structure.

A more important facet of my traditionalism, however, is that I still cling fervently to the notion that the ACC should be home to America’s best basketball. As is well understood by now, this notion is unambiguously false: the conference will begin this season with UNC and Duke ranked in the top ten as usual, but with nobody else in the Top 25. There is great potential for several middle-tier ACC programs to recover and strengthen the conference, particularly N.C. State, Maryland and Virginia, with Florida St., Clemson and Virginia Tech also likely to continue their recent successes.

But as much as I am a traditionalist, I am also a realist, and the ACC that once had a third or fourth perennial powerhouse to go with UNC and Duke is now a fantasy. Moreover, the entire country is undertaking a massive conference realignment that threatened the long-term cohesion, and thus existence, of the ACC; sitting content, even if we did decide to let others surpass us with football riches, would have ignored the possibility of Clemson, Florida State, or someone else bolting.

I cannot speak to the precise intent of John Swofford and the ACC in selecting Pitt and Syracuse for expansion, but in my view, adding those two fits what should be our goal for realignment. In order to ensure our long-term existence, we need to be at 14 or 16 teams; in order to preserve our identity, we should be looking for East coast schools that play powerhouse basketball and above average but still mediocre football.

The decision was mocked by some arguing that it does not noticeably bolster ACC football. ACC fans, other than those at maybe Florida State and Virginia Tech, don’t care too much about that. While expansion in general has to occur for football-related reasons, the particular programs we select should be calculated for basketball reasons. Given the necessity and opportunity of expansion, it makes sense for the conference to move on from old-ACC nostalgia to pursue its place as the unquestioned home of America’s best basketball programs.

For all of the above reasons, Pitt and Syracuse are perfect additions: they play a little football, enough to contribute to a solid conference; more importantly, they are top ten basketball programs that play deep into March.** Let’s be honest: the ACC tournament recently has been home to some of the nation’s most boring Semifinal Saturdays. The 2013 tournament could occupy the nation’s attention with match-ups featuring UNC, Duke, Pitt and Syracuse.

It is a new-look ACC embracing reality to return to its old, well-established form, which means that ACC purists can get on board.

**I couldn’t find a logical point in the argument to make an angry, tangential aside, so I foot-noted it. It has been widely reported that Boston College is resisting the addition of Connecticut, even though UConn has openly expressed its desire to leave the Big East and join. One report says that UConn was our first choice over Pitt, and that BC blocked it. The quote to the media from BC’s AD: “We didn’t want them in. It was a matter of turf. We wanted to be the New England team.”

There are multiple glaring problems with his statement. The first is his completely indefensible arrogance. What turf has BC ever guarded in the ACC? They are one of the conference’s worst teams in football, and they are slated to be among the worst in basketball. Second, there is no basis for desiring a whole region to itself; stand up and compete like the other thirteen programs crowded in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Lastly, BC should stay quiet and understand their fortune to even be in the ACC. It is appalling that they have the gall to demand an objection, especially to something that so clearly benefits the rest of the conference!

Connecticut should be treated as the Holy Grail of ACC expansion. Along with UNC and Duke, UConn completes the trio of East coast basketball programs that have reigned over the sport for the past decade. Adding their program makes sense for the same reasons that it does with Pitt and Syracuse, and it has the potential to make the ACC for basketball what the SEC is for football. If BC objects, they should take a hike.

In the meantime, I hope UNC fans remind BC of this when they visit Chapel Hill in January, and I hope ACC fans unite to remind them at the tournament in March. They need to feel just how unwanted and inferior their program is, if they are going to obstruct such an obvious improvement to the whole.

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