Chat time: The ACC's history and post-realignment future


Friends Mark Ennis and Martin Rickman are talking about the conference again, this time discussing the power dynamics of the league, how to make jokes about the ACC and what to do with the ACC Tournament.

Martin: Hey, Mark, it's that time again. Time to talk about the ACC and things that go along with the ACC, like friends and sports. It's still May, which means things are a bit quiet aside from baseball, but what stands out to you right now in the old conference world?

Mark: It's funny you ask that because, eventually, SB Nation will have a site devoted solely to the ACC, and in order to prepare, I've been doing a little reading about the glorious past of the league. I've been reading Bethany Bradsher's book The Classic about the Dixie Classic and its role in helping make basketball popular in the south. What strikes me? How important N.C. State and Wake Forest were in getting the Big Four to actually be the Big Four. It made me want to ask you in this chat: what's up with Wake Forest, man?

Martin: Oh, here we go again. Plenty is going on with Wake Forest. But in the interest of avoiding PTSD flashbacks and getting unnecessarily riled up, the tl;dr version of it is this -- Wake basketball is a mess. Athletic director Ron Wellman made a calculated decision he thought would go over just fine. When it didn't, he didn't anticipate the backlash. Also, the coach he hired is not a people person, is not particularly noteworthy or good at anything, including recruiting, and is vitriolic to the fan base in general. He and Wellman built a wall of us vs. them (the fans who are not supporting the losing), and it has gotten really ugly.

The team might win 15-18 games, which is still an improvement over the eight-win season of 2011, but is still far from what Wake Forest used to be. I don't see Bzdelik being around much longer, but who knows, Wellman hasn't shown any inclination he's less than satisfied with the reclamation project and continues to trumpet the same buzzwords and rhetoric he's been spouting for the past two-plus seasons.

Mark: Comparing that book to what people say in the present, it's hammered home to me just how distorted a view of various schools we can get when we're too narrowly focused. I mean, Wake Forest (and N.C. State, btw) both have legitimately proud basketball histories, and they're almost buried now under Duke and UNC, in terms of perception and attention. To move the discussion out a little wider, given the role the big four played in making basketball so popular in this region, do you sometimes wince a little when people (like me, at times) talk about playing the ACC Tournament in Madison Square Garden? There's something to be said for paying a little homage to the Carolina roots of the good ol' #goacc, right?

Martin: No it doesn't bother me at all. Conferences change and they evolve. If the league thinks it's a good idea to expand and rotate the ACC Tournament to other sites, and MSG is one of them, then fine. The ACC isn't a Good Ole' Boys club anymore. It's a bonafide national powerhouse of a league. You can't pick and choose what you want the league to be. There are those who say the ACCT should always be in Greensboro, but the reality is, even Greensboro hasn't been selling out recently unless Duke and UNC are in it on Sunday. The league itself needs attention and to raise its profile again. If anything, and we're talking roots here, let UNC, Duke, State and Wake play each other twice a year again. I would like that, although I realize it isn't going to happen.

In brushing up on the history of the ACC, how do you feel Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame match up? Does that tradition show through? Does it make sense? Do the additions fit in your opinion?

Mark: I think in terms of fan intensity and the schools' commitment to winning in basketball, I don't think there's any question that all four schools will fit right into the ACC. Louisville and Syracuse will probably be some of the largest crowds any of the ACC teams will play in front of (in the regular season). I think it'll really be a lot of fun for both sides of the equation. In a lot of ways it's truly a national conference, so to get Duke to play at Syracuse, or Louisville at North Carolina, or Pittsburgh down in Miami, that's all fun, and while they're all conference matchups, they're intersectional, too.

Flip the script to football: I feel like Louisville will hit the ground in the ACC in good shape, but I fear fans locally are underestimating how significant of a leap it will be in terms of talent to play Florida State and Clemson annually. Am I crazy?

Martin: I don't think Pittsburgh fans are underestimating it at all. Syracuse, either. I don't know enough about Louisville to tell. I think people are well aware it's hard to beat Clemson and Florida State on a regular basis. Honestly, if anything, we may see fans underestimating the league as a whole based on the perception it is an inferior conference. But just wait until someone is 7-0 and has to go play at N.C. State, or Boston College upsets somebody (don't laugh, really don't), or Miami shocks everyone and wins nine games. What excites me most about this is we have a league that is even more balanced than before. There are really no bad teams, just teams going through bad stretches. And that's a good thing in the long run I believe.

Mark: That's a good lead into my next question. It seems like the ACC has had two problems in the BCS era. 1. The best team in the conference hasn't gone undefeated, so they're constantly out of the national title discussion 2. The teams in the "middle" really don't finish closer to the top. Like, the SEC finishes a season with 6 10-win teams. The ACC can't do that until some other teams pick up the pace a little. Do you think teams like NC State, Miami, Louisville or Pittsburgh, can become those teams? Which of them seems most likely to do so?

Martin: Louisville, definitely. Miami if they can get their recruiting back on track, weather the storm and get more creative with where they explore their pipeline. State is going to be an interesting case. I'm not sure what to make of Dave Doeren yet, but he seems to have a good gameplan. And Pittsburgh just has the worst luck in the world, so aside from fitting right in the ACC, I don't know how sustainable success can be for them despite their rich history. What do you think?

Mark: As someone that followed them in the Big East, I can confirm that Pittsburgh truly has the worst luck in college sports. I honestly think if more people stopped and took a look, there'd be more sympathy for them as an athletic department. I think Pitt will be ok in the ACC. In both sports. I think NC State really has a ton of upside, it's just a matter of actually doing it that has eluded them (for quite some time, now). I feel the same way about Fedora at North Carolina. The Carolinas are too talent-rich for the football programs there to keep being so average. Right?

Martin: Yes and no. The problem is getting those players to stay in-state. UNC had a good thing going before the transgressions hit. And State got some good players with TOB, but the excitement was lacking at times. I think both programs can be good and stay good. But what does that mean? Chance at an Orange Bowl once or twice ... better than the Independence Bowl? Is that enough for fans?

Mark: I think that's a good question. With the new postseason format coming, there's a chance of getting more teams at the top of conferences into bigger bowl games than would normally be available, so that might help as well.

Last thing, Martin: Ohio State president Elwood Gordon Gee managed to piss off virtually everyone south of his current locale, and Notre Dame, with his jokes. His biggest (worst?) joke being that people in the SEC can't read. The question is, if Gordon Gee were to make fun of the ACC, what would he say? I think he would mock us for drinking boxed wine. What say you?

Martin: Wait doesn't every college drink boxed wine? I dunno, Gee could cite how obese people are if he wanted a cheap joke or play off North Carolina politicians being backwards in their legislation, or make Andy Griffith jokes I guess. I just can't believe a guy who has spent as much money on bow ties as he has continues to operate in a position of power, but that says something about the state of Ohio probably. I mean, this is the state that had Bill Belichick, fired him, hired multiple assistants of his, had Chud as an offensive coordinator, hired Shurmur instead, then fired Shurmur and hired Chud anyway. But that's another conversation for another day.

Mark: Oh man, Andy Griffith jokes. I'm going to have to start working on those for the ACC blog. Nice reminder. Thanks, Martin!

Martin: Yeah that is a deep pool to draw from, so brush up. Andy Griffith is serious business. Thanks as always Mark.

Mark: Cool, thanks. Appreciate it Martin. Until next week!

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