July 2, 2013
NEW YORK — This was the ACC like we've never seen. Lobster-on-crostini hors d'oeuvres and piped-in-jazz overlooking Times Square rather than barbecue, hush puppies and Kenny Chesney out yonder. An aggressive, confident marketing campaign instead of the staid, traditional odes to the past.
All to mark Monday's official arrival of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame to the conference. All to transparently proclaim the ACC is in the big city to stay.
Oh, there were down-home touches such as sending the 15 schools' mascots to the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. But Monday's rollout was more Gordon Gekko than Bones McKinney, more single-malt than sweet tea, complete with the Twitter hashtag "#ACCtakesNYC."
The only thing missing was ACC graffiti at Penn Station.
In short, this is business, kids, and the league wisely intends to do "bidness" in New York.
"This is a very prominent city from a media standpoint, from a sports standpoint, that has not been in our footprint," Commissioner John Swofford said during an afternoon news conference at the NASDAQ stock exchange. "It is now, as of today, and we want to treat it with the appropriate level of importance we think it brings."
I doubt Swofford is selling his golf-course crib adjacent to ACC headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., but he may be hunting a second home on the Upper East Side. Why, after throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium last week and ringing the closing bell Monday at the NASDAQ, he may mount an 11th-hour campaign to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg — he certainly has less baggage than frontrunner/Twitter offender Anthony Weiner.
The ACC's renowned men's basketball tournament? The only question is when it lands in New York and for how long.
Postseason football? The ACC last week announced a six-year partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl that includes signage at Yankee Stadium.
Regular-season basketball and football? Duke plays UCLA this basketball season at Madison Square Garden, and Syracuse opens its football season next month against Penn State in the New York Giants' and Jets' stadium across the water in Jersey.
Expect more such appearances in 2014 and beyond.
"We're very bullish about our 15-member league and the total, full commitment we have among our members," Swofford said, using the proper investment term. "You don't want to be crazy, but we want to be bold."
As well they should be. Monday's three additions, next year's arrival of Louisville and the recent grant of media rights that secures membership make the ACC stronger than ever competitively and demographically — the league's footprint includes more television households than any conference.
Yes, the ACC's football programs need to perform better, and yes, divisions need to be retooled to maximize budding football rivalries such as Virginia Tech-Florida State. But the "unlimited potential" Swofford described Monday is not hyperbole.
"We've really helped the ACC," said Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer, among those the league jetted in for the soiree. "The (current) teams are better. The teams we're bringing in, their future is better.
"I think generally, the ACC's in a great position. … You add population, you add TV households, you've probably helped your recruiting, and that's the heart of any program."
Pitt and Syracuse — Notre Dame remains a football independent — haven't recently approached their Dan Marino/Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown/Floyd Little football traditions. But there was a time not too long ago when they were compelling Big East rivals of Virginia Tech.
Beamer recalls all too well coping with the likes of the Orange's Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney, and the Panthers' Larry Fitzgerald and Curtis Martin. With a more stable and attractive conference to sell, and with fresh leadership hired in coaches Paul Chryst and Scott Shafer, Pitt and Syracuse have a fighting chance to re-emerge.
Even Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim, incurable curmudgeon he, has joined the chorus.
"The best basketball conference ever," he said. "I don't think that's a stretch at all."
Boeheim is the most irresistible character in the ACC expansion saga.
Of all the icons who competed in the Big East — Patrick Ewing, John Thompson, Chris Mullin, Louie Carnesecca and Jim Calhoun spring to mind — none was more steeped in the conference's lore than he. Indeed, Boeheim was the winning coach in the Big East's most enduring moment: Syracuse's six-overtime victory over Connecticut in the 2009 league tournament quarterfinals.
At age 68, and following a fourth Final Four appearance in April, Boeheim easily could have walked. The symmetry and symbolism of his farewell coinciding with the old Big East's would have been, in many ways, perfect.
But Boeheim is as hard-scrabble as his beloved Syracuse. The man loves a fight, and the ACC will be bruising.
Add Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and, eventually, Louisville, NCAA tournament regulars all, to Duke, North Carolina and the rest, and the ACC should lord over college basketball.
And when might the ACC tournament come to Madison Square Garden or, less desirable, the Barclays Center? As he has countless times, Swofford made the conference's intent clear without offering details.
"We've been having this discussion for over a year now," he said, "and it's been a very thorough one and continues to be. There's still some … venue availability questions that we don't have answers for yet."
Swofford was more certain and succinct when I asked if Monday marked a more assertive, self-assured ACC, one that mirrored any good New Yorker.
"The simple answer," he said, "is yes."
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