It was a long-awaited moment of celebration and pride, one that came with a slick made-for-TV set and presentation. And then there was ACC Commissioner John Swofford standing behind a podium in late July, announcing that an ESPN-backed ACC Network would finally arrive in 2019.
Tucked away in the details of the press release that day was more news that undoubtedly was of interest to the ACC’s men’s basketball coaches. In unveiling news of the impending ACC Network, the league also announced a big change to its men’s basketball schedule: more conference games.
Starting with the 2019-20 season, the ACC teams will play a 20-game conference schedule. The league’s coaches discussed such a move in May at the conference’s spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., but they left the Ritz-Carlton having decided to stay at 18 conference games indefinitely.
Or so they thought. Asked recently about the ACC’s move to go to a 20-game conference schedule in a few years, North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t hide his frustration. He and the ACC’s other coaches in the league had been left in the dark about it, and to Williams that was disappointing.
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“You know we’ve got a wonderful group of basketball coaches in this league,” Williams said. “It’s well respected in the country.”
That was the set up to what came next, Williams referencing when he found about the decision to go to 20 games: “You heard about it the same time I did.”
In a 15-team ACC, a 20-game league schedule might have been an inevitability with or without the arrival of a TV network. Some coaches, like N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried, have supported the move with the belief that more conference games would improve the league’s RPI and lead to more NCAA tournament bids.
Even so, the idea didn’t make it out of the coaches’ meetings in May. There was no vote. It was a dead issue until it was alive again. And then, to Williams’ surprise, the decision was final – a 20-game conference schedule was coming, just in time to provide additional inventory (games) for a new TV channel.
“I did not appreciate that,” Williams said of how he received the news.
The move to a 20-game schedule will undoubtedly affect how ACC teams approach their non-conference schedules. Williams and UNC like to schedule aggressively. The Tar Heels are back in Maui later this month for the Maui Invitational, which always attracts a strong field.
Later, in December, UNC plays against Kentucky in Las Vegas. There’s the ACC/Big Ten Challenge game against Indiana, too, on Nov. 30. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge likely isn’t going anywhere. It’s one of ESPN’s babies, and the best games are always easy to promote.
But UNC-Kentucky? When the 20-game ACC schedule becomes a reality, that series could well be in jeopardy. It’s one thing to play against Kentucky with 16 ACC games ahead, or even 18. Twenty conference games, though, changes the dynamic, and leaves less non-conference scheduling flexibility.
Which is something the league’s coaches undoubtedly talked about in their spring meetings when the idea of a 20-game schedule came up. There wasn’t even enough support to bring it to a vote. About two and a half months later, that didn’t matter – a 20-game schedule was coming, like it or not.
“I did not appreciate it,” Williams said again. “Never would appreciate the way it was done.”