Duke-Syracuse and Duke-UNC TV ratings, the ACC “gold mine” and future scheduling

Posted by Laura Keeley on February 26, 2014 

A chart comparing the winning percentages of the permanent partners for the ACC's top four teams.


In the aftermath of Duke’s 66-60 win over Syracuse, Mike Krzyzewski was asked if he would like to see Duke and Syracuse play twice a year. He didn’t answer that question directly (a tangent about the difficulties that come with 9 p.m. games ensued), but he did say this:

"After the season, we should have plans on how to do this the right way,” he said. “We have a gold mine for college basketball. This conference has struck gold. We should be the top one if we continue to figure it out the right way.”

With Duke-Syracuse, the conference has certainly struck TV gold. The Feb. 1 meeting between the two teams was ESPN’s third most-viewed regular-season men’s college basketball game on record, averaging averaging 4,745,000 viewers. Last Saturday’s rematch drew 4.2 million, according to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal.

It’s not possible to make a direct apples-to-apples comparison to the viewership for Duke at North Carolina last Thursday, since the game was also shown on dozens of ACC affiliates nationwide. That said, the ESPN broadcast of Duke-UNC drew 2.3 million viewers.

Locally, Duke-UNC was shown on WRAL, and the game drew 183,046 households in the Raleigh-Durham market (a 15.7 rating), according WRAL’s Jeff Suss. The Duke-Syracuse rematch drew 129,712 Raleigh-Durham households (an 11.1 rating). Not a huge surprise—remember, Duke and UNC share the same local market.

Nationally, the Raleigh-Durham market had the third-highest viewership of Duke-Syracuse, behind just Greensboro (11.7) and Louisville (11.2), according to ESPN spokesperson Keri Potts.

"Their celebration of basketball there," Krzyzewski said in reference to the atmosphere when Duke played at Syracuse, "And our celebration of basketball here was phenomenal. It’s what makes our sport so good. I love the NBA to death but this is something they can’t do. We should always recognize that."

"I said it after our game up there, our conference after that game should recognize the assets they were able to get," Krzyzewski said. "Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, and then Louisville are just the best assets for college basketball that any conference could get. We’re seeing why right now. And we should see how we take advantage of that going into the future where we don't assume we’re going to be the best conference, but we do all the things necessary to make that happen.

"The Big East did a great job of that when they had those teams. They did a better job of it than us. They were really good. But we were really good, too. Most people felt they were better sometimes. I’m not sure if they were, but how they did it, people believed that."

If the ACC is interested in creating the strongest national perception possible, then it will make Duke and Syracuse play a home-and-home series every year. The Duke-UNC has carried this league on TV and in the standings for years—Duke-Syracuse is primed to do the same.

The current scheduling format gives each team two permanent partners—for example’s Duke’s partners are UNC and Wake Forest. The Blue Devils are guaranteed to play a home-and-home series with both the Demon Deacons and the Tar Heels every year. Duke plays two others teams twice, too, and this year, those teams are Syracuse and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils play the other 10 ACC teams just once. So that means it could be years before the Orange and the Blue Devils play another home-and-home series in the same season.

Back to the original question posed to Krzyzewski: does he want Duke and Syracuse to play twice a year? Perhaps one reason he side-stepped the question is because that would make the Blue Devils’ ACC schedule significantly harder if they swapped Wake Forest for Syracuse as a permanent partner (see the chart at the top of the post). The most simple domino effect would likely cause the Orange to swap Duke for Boston College—also significantly adding to the scheduling degree of difficulty (Syracuse’s inexplicable loss to the Eagles this year notwithstanding).

"Two great games. I’m happy to be a part of it and it’ll be okay to see Duke once next year," Jim Boeheim said after Saturday’s game, drawing a few chuckles from the media.

The ACC’s unbalanced scheduling has certainly helped current first-place team Virginia (14-1 so far)—the Cavaliers don’t play any of the top seven teams in the conference twice.

The ACC hasn’t announced who Louisville’s two partners will be when the Cardinals join the league for next season. The league will have an opportunity to completely redo the scheduling system—or they can at least have Louisville take Maryland’s place and give Virginia a worthy home-and-home challenge.

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