North Carolina and N.C. State have played one another twice per season in basketball for as long as the ACC has existed, and for even longer than that. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack have met at least twice annually every year since 1920, but the days of home-and-home basketball matchups every season are numbered for these longtime rivals.
The ACC on Friday announced new scheduling formats that will take effect when Pittsburgh and Syracuse officially join the league, making it a 14-team conference. In football, teams will play nine conference games - one more than they do now - and in basketball, they will play 18 league games, as had been previously announced.
In moving to an 18-game conference basketball schedule, though, the ACC announced that each of its 14 members will be paired with one permanent partner. Permanent partners will play twice per season, and those will be the only regular-season conference games guaranteed to be played twice per season, every season.
UNC's permanent partner in basketball will be Duke. N.C. State's will be Wake Forest. Which means that at some point in the coming years, the Tar Heels and Wolfpack will meet just once in the regular season for the first time since 1919.
"In a perfect world, we would play Duke and Carolina twice every year, but there are no perfect solutions," N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said Friday.
The scheduling announcement came after ACC officials and league athletic directors concluded the conference's winter meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ACC commissioner John Swofford said the conference's main priority was to create a fair scheduling format in all sports.
"With a 14-team league, what our athletic directors and coaches wanted first and foremost was an equitable schedule," he said. "... As it turned out in the discussions there, there was a strong feeling - pretty much across the board - that the one partner approach was the best way to accomplish the most equitable schedule and accomplish the commitment to playing each other as much as possible year in and year out."
Under the current basketball scheduling model, adopted after the ACC decided in 2003 to expand from nine to 12 schools, each team is paired with two permanent partners. UNC has been paired with Duke and N.C. State, and N.C. State with UNC and Wake Forest. Duke's partners have been UNC and Maryland.
When the new basketball schedule takes effect, teams will play their lone permanent partner twice. The remaining 16 conference games will be based on a rotation: Depending on the year, a team will play one group of four opponents home-and-away, another foursome at home only, and the final foursome on the road only.
Through the course of the three-year cycle, permanent partners will play one another six times. All other conference opponents will play one another four times.
"You lose certain things, and you gain a lot of other things," Swofford said. "You know, the State-Carolina rivalry is a special one and has been for a long time. And that, without question, will continue to be."
Tar Heels basketball coach Roy Williams has remained passionate about the UNC-N.C. State rivalry, even while it has become one-sided in his team's favor in recent seasons. Williams didn't have much to say, however, when asked about the ACC's new scheduling format.
Asked Friday afternoon if he'd heard about it yet, Williams said he had, and that he'd printed the ACC's announcement and set it by his briefcase so that he'd be able to read it if he became "bored and couldn't go to sleep."
Williams asked if the scheduling changes would take effect next season. Told that they would whenever Pitt and Syracuse begin ACC play, he said, "Heck, I know I'm not going to read that tonight even if I'm bored stiff, then."
In football, the adoption of a nine-game schedule will create a competitive imbalance in that some teams will play five home games and four away games in a given season, while other teams will have four home games and five away games. Swofford said the ACC's intent will be for each team in a division to play the same number of home and away games.
Pitt will compete in the Coastal Division in football, and Syracuse in the Atlantic.
"It complicates life a little bit for (athletic directors) in terms of their scheduling," Swofford said of a nine-game schedule. "One of the things that was requested, and it appears that we can do, is to (schedule) that by divisions, so that teams in each division are playing the same number of home and away games in any particular year.
"From a fairness standpoint, at least that's the way we intend to start out in our scheduling."
Swofford said there was talk of realigning the divisions, but officials decided against it in part because of how competitive teams have been in cross-divisional games. Since the ACC adopted a divisional format in 2005, Atlantic Division teams are 68-65 against their Coastal Division counterparts.
N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien favors the nine-game conference schedule.
"As long as everybody in the division is even, and has the same amount of home games, then I don't see any real issue with it," he said.
Swofford said it remains unclear when Pitt and Syracuse, both of whom are still competing in the Big East, would join the ACC. Another uncertainty is how the ACC basketball tournament will be formatted with Pitt and Syracuse .
League officials and athletic directors agreed that all 14 teams should compete in the tournament, but the structure of the tournament remains undecided. Swofford said the league's intention is to finalize the future ACC Tournament format during the ACC's spring meetings in May.
In the future, in certain years, the tournament will be the only way for UNC and N.C. State to meet a second time.
"I don't like it," N.C. State point guard Lorenzo Brown said of the change. "You shouldn't change tradition. It has been like that a long time, why would you change it now?"
Staff writer J.P. Giglio contributed to this report.