RALEIGH — At a time when the ACC buzz meter is relatively low in the two major sports, the league announced a scheduling policy Friday that will take another deep cut into its basketball popularity.
In preparation for the eventual arrivals of Pittsburgh and Syracuse as members, the league said UNC and N.C. State and Duke and Maryland no longer will be guaranteed to play each other twice a season when the membership hits 14 teams.
Fans howled immediately.
But the truth is ACC officials don't put the highest priority on what fans want, just so long as those fans continue to watch the games on television, purchase cable packages, send donations and attend games.
Wolfpack athletics director Debbie Yow called it the "reality of expansion."
It's also the reality of the bank deposit.
Annexing television markets has become more pertinent than the series between State and UNC, even though the rivalry was the primary force behind the explosion of interest in basketball in the South.
Other than isolated pockets of success and occasional popularity spikes in other sports, baseball and football so dominated Southern sports that some schools didn't even bother having a men's basketball team. Others had schedules of only 15 to 20 games.
When Clemson was among eight teams invited to participate in the 1939 NCAA tournament, the school declined because it would have required that football/basketball star Banks McFadden miss a few days of spring football drills.
From Case, McGuire
But when Everett Case was hired by State in 1946 and UNC soon countered by luring Frank McGuire from St. John's, men's basketball interest so exploded in the state that it created a regional ripple.
In two of those seasons - 1957-58 and 1974-75 - the Tar Heels and Wolfpack played four times. They met in the championship of '57-'58 Dixie Classic in Raleigh and played in the second round of '74-'75 Big Four in Greensboro in addition to ACC tournament meetings in each season.
The excitement created by the State-UNC series led to construction of important regional arenas in Greensboro, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem, Columbia, S.C., and Raleigh.
You have to go back to 1919 to find the last season in which the Pack and Heels didn't play at least twice.
In the backwash of Friday's announcement, there will be a clamor among many fans to increase future league schedules from 18 to 20 or 22 games - an idea the coaches detest and will fight fiercely.
Expansion the culprit
At some point, there will be an increase to 20-game league schedules. But even if that happens, that will be an unsustainable solution to counteract watered-down competition as long the ACC (and other leagues) continue to expand in the quest to add television and cable markets.
But when the coaches are making millions annually and the athletics departments are better staffed than some regional banks, the games have to fall below revenue generation in importance.
And by the way, the ACC also has decided to go to nine-game league football schedules when the two newcomers arrive.
That policy probably will mean we'll see more of Syracuse and Pitt and less of non-ACC games against ECU and South Carolina at Triangle stadiums.
In case it's slipped your memory, that ACC bowl record last season was 2-6.
Reduced to the most basic impact on North Carolina fans, the new scheduling formats will mean less interesting games in both sports.