Ratcliffe: Hoops should be on Swofford's mind as ACC prepares to grow - The Daily Progress: Sports

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Ratcliffe: Hoops should be on Swofford's mind as ACC prepares to grow

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Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2013 8:33 pm

Now that the Final Four is over and a future ACC team has been crowned champion, most sports fans will turn their attention toward spring/summer sports.

ACC commissioner John Swofford won’t necessarily have that luxury.

Swofford, who brilliantly managed expansion, TV contracts and the league’s football future in the new playoffs, never rests. What must be on his mind is ACC basketball.

Why, you say? Certainly the future of the conference appears grand with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame for next season and Louisville the year after. The ACC should rise again to become the most powerful basketball league in America.

However, with some questions/challenges that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski raised recently, the entire ACC must look at itself in the mirror and figure out how to get the most out of what it’s got. Knowing Swofford, he already has a head start on this and will likely introduce his thoughts to the rest of the league’s coaches and athletic directors at the upcoming spring meetings.

Keep in mind that for the first time since 1961, the present ACC did not place a team in the NCAA Final Four a third consecutive year. During many of your lifetimes, you’ve never heard of such a thing. Also consider that other than since 2004, when Duke and Georgia Tech made the Final Four, only three ACC teams other than Duke or North Carolina even made the Sweet 16.

Of course the new schools could remedy that, but as Krzyzewski raised, now that the ACC should become the country’s best basketball league, how does it get the most bang for its buck?

“Does our conference develop its own TV network?” the Duke coach asked. “Where do we play the [ACC] tournament? When do we play the tournament? How do we position our regular season? How do we make teams play schedules that are worthy of NCAA consideration (are you listening, Virginia?)?

“In other words, to take a real close look at our league with the new members and say, ‘Why are we different? Why are we better? How can we be the top league?’ If we don’t do that, then we’d be negligent. We’d miss out on a great opportunity,” Coach K said.

He’s right, you know. Swofford surely knows, too. And, there’s no way that Swofford would ever be charged with being negligent. He’s usually at least one step ahead of the rest.

With the addition of new teams, there will be increased interest, not just in those regions but around the country. Is it time for an ACC Network, much like the Big Ten has?

The SEC is expected to launch its own TV network in conjunction with ESPN this fall, and what must be making the ACC a little nervous is that we’re told the SEC network’s headquarters would be in Charlotte, only a little more than an hour’s drive from the ACC’s office in Greensboro.

Clearly there would be enough basketball interest in ACC basketball to make it work, but what about the league’s football, which has been struggling to grab a piece of the national pie for years? When it comes to spring sports, the ACC would likely dominate the rest of the nation, but there’s still those football numbers out there.

Florida State and Miami have never regained the status the ACC hoped and that has held the league back on the gridiron. Until those two programs return to national prominence, there’s a big question mark of how marketable ACC football is outside its own geographic footprint.

Would an ACC Network help that image? Certainly, Swofford is examining every possible angle.

“In today’s world, it’s the sexy thing to do,” the ACC commish said of the league’s potential network. “I think it remains to be seen as to whether all those channels can be successful over the long term or not. We’re very interested in that if the right business plan can be there that makes sense for us and ESPN.”

Of course, one of the hanging chads in this whole future is Notre Dame football. The Irish, which own their own exclusive TV package with NBC, will have to renegotiate that deal after the 2015 season. By then, the new college football playoff system will be in effect and some believe Notre Dame will be forced to become a full-time member of the ACC in order to keep its prominence for postseason consideration.

But, back to basketball. There’s been some discussion about whether it will remain smart to keep the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, where it seems to best thrive, or to continue to move it around.

During stops in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Charlotte, and even Tampa, Fla., the tournament just doesn’t seem to have the same atmosphere as in Greensboro. Part of that is because there’s usually one or at least two teams from Tobacco Road in the mix for the final weekend of play, thus lots of fannies in the seats.

Of course that used to drive Gary Williams and Lefty Driesell absolutely bonkers. Other coaches outside of North Carolina’s Big Four, have been less vocal, yet nonetheless disturbed that the event is normally held in Carolina’s and Duke’s backyard.

That argument may hold less water due to the fact that the last two ACC champions have come from Florida: Miami and FSU.

Which begs another question. With the influx of new teams, how much will UNC’s and Duke’s influence become in the new 15-team league? Certainly those two programs will always be good (although Coach K and the Heels’ Roy Williams aren’t getting any younger), but will they dominate a league with Syracuse, Louisville, Pitt and Notre Dame?

Louisville has played in 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, winning this year’s title in back-to-back Final Four appearances. Syracuse has missed only five NCAA Tournaments since 1982-83. Notre Dame has played in nine NCAAs since 2001 (one Sweet 16). Pitt has played in 11 of the last 12 NCAAs.

There has also been some discussion as to whether the ACC should move its tournament championship game to Saturday as in the old days rather than contest it on Sunday, hours before the NCAA selection committee announces its field. Personally, I think that’s a good idea.

“Our league was founded on basketball,” Krzyzewski said, “and that doesn’t mean football isn’t important. But I want ACC basketball to be the best. And we have a chance to do that again.”

If I may interject, Coach K is wrong about the whole basketball/football thing. The ACC was actually founded on football, but basketball just took off thanks to N.C. State, UNC and Duke mostly and left football in the dust.

But we get his point.

I’ll bet Swofford does, too.

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