UNC's Williams on the strength of the ACC: 'Guys, the ACC is frickin' a really, really, really...good league'
The ACC was running ahead of schedule after three days of meetings on Wednesday even as everyone appears ready to head home without any resolution on the future of the basketball tournament.
Which isn't to say where the tournament is headed after Charlotte next March and Greensboro in 2020 hasn't been discussed. It has. Constantly, if mostly informally.
“There's always that kind of discussion,” N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said.
But the dynamic surrounding tournament sites, pitting the old guard against the Big East transplants, is so complicated that it doesn't appear a proposal will come up for a vote Thursday.
ACC executives said that there are still multiple options available for 2021 even as the calendar ticks by, as long as the conference can come to a decision by the end of the summer. Perhaps a consensus can be reached by Thursday morning's final session. More likely, the behind-the-scenes politicking will continue over the phone as it has in person in hallways and at receptions this week.
The eternal debate over the tournament remains a tug and pull between North Carolina and the northeast, a dichotomy that highlights where the divisions lie between the old and new factions within the ACC even as the impending launch of the television network figures to bring them closer together.
Even in an era dominated by football, the basketball tournament remains the ACC's signature event and most desirable property. Not merely massive finances but massive egos are tied up in where it is played. The stakes are extraordinary, making it one of the very few areas of governance where ACC schools still find themselves pursuing disparate agendas amid an atmosphere of general cooperation and consensus about the direction of the league.
At a time when ACC schools seem to be moving closer together, with the Power 5 conferences free to set their own agenda in the age of autonomy and the ACC very much an active participant in that process, the tournament still has the power to drive them apart.
With a vote appearing unlikely, but not impossible, on Thursday, most of the discussion has been informal as influence is brokered in an attempt to find a path forward.
There has been talk this week of pushing for a two-year plan that would take the tournament back north – to Washington in 2021 and Brooklyn in 2022, potentially – which would mean that the tournament would be played outside of North Carolina five times in seven years.
The alternative would be a four- or five-year plan that includes North Carolina, but more years and more sites means more conflicting priorities, more votes for ACC commissioner John Swofford to wrangle and more gravitational force exerted by the perpetual lure of Madison Square Garden, despite the obvious logistical hurdles presented by the Big East's long-term residency.
Swofford spoke at length in Brooklyn in March about his desire for a North Carolina-Washington-New York rotation for the tournament that balanced the conference's roots with its new membership, but hasn't yet been able to navigate that path forward.
None of these issues are new, but that doesn't make them any easier to resolve.
“We talk about that every meeting,” North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said.
Either way, Swofford's history indicates he's unlikely to bring any proposal before the athletic directors and faculty representatives until he knows he has successfully massaged enough voters to reach a consensus. In this specific case, his efforts may be complicated by the fact that he's dealing with tournaments to be played after his current contract is set to expire in 2020, although there's no indication at the moment Swofford, 69, plans to retire at that point.
Swofford will speak with the media Thursday, after the meetings conclude. Perhaps he'll have a sense then of where the tournament is headed. Given the complicated nature of the discussion, he might not even then.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock