My first love wasn’t Farrah Fawcett. It wasn’t even a Red Radio Flyer or IROC-Z Camaro. My first love was ACC basketball. Watching the students sections go nuts in close games, I knew by the time I was 10 that I’d attend an ACC school, I just had no idea which one. Nothing beat settling in to hear Jim Thacker and Billy Packer broadcast games on the C.D. Chesley network. “Sail with the Pilot” and the “Holly Farms Player of the Game” were phrases that were as much a part of my childhood as “God is good, God is great.” In the 70’s, NC State’s high-flying David Thompson awed us with his alley-oops. By the 80’s, UVA’s 7’4″ Ralph Sampson played the game with the athleticism of a 6’4″ guard. Close behind, Michael Jordan waggled his tongue as his soared past everyone. In those days, I literally knew every player in the eight-team ACC. Players then, almost always honored a four-year commitment to their university. Having to endure hated players at rival schools for four years is what made the games so intense. I thought Ricky Stokes would never graduate from UVA. Never mind Dean Smith, Satan himself to those of us that didn’t grow up UNC fans, whose hip gyrations when he pleaded for a blocking call sent us into hysterics.
Something happened over the last decade that diminished my love for the ACC. Expansion to a twelve-team conference and defections of top players to the NBA have ruined what was once a great tradition. Some say greed created expansion, ACC commissioner John Swofford would probably call it survival in the TV contract era, but whatever the reason it isn’t as good as it used to be. Gearing up to watch Miami vs. Boston College just doesn’t feel the same as a Big Four matchup, or a Georgia Tech-Maryland dogfight. With so many teams, and so many players disappearing after a season or two, I can’t keep up with who’s who. The All-ACC team? I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup. To have a decent rivalry you’ve got to at least dislike your opponent. How can you dislike them when you don’t know who they are?
Even the ACC Tournament’s impact has suffered. The good old days of everything stopping at noon on Friday to watch the tournament? Long gone. Tickets to the tournament were once more precious than a 57′ Topps Mickey Mantle. Watch a game in this year’s four day Bore-a-thon and you’ll see empty seats all around the court.
I know it’s dangerous to dwell on the past and often times the good old days weren’t as good as we try to make them. But with ACC basketball, the best is already in the books.