Sports

ACC waiting on Madison Square Garden ... still

North Carolina and Duke tipoff in the semifinals of the New York Life ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Friday, March 10, 2017.
North Carolina and Duke tipoff in the semifinals of the New York Life ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Friday, March 10, 2017. ehyman@newsobserver.com

When the ACC tacked on two years to its tournament rotation last month, adding Washington in 2021 and Brooklyn in 2022 onto previously announced trips to Charlotte this March and Greensboro in 2020, the abbreviated nature of the extension was no accident.

The ACC, like the Big Ten, continues to covet Madison Square Garden and wants to maintain maximum flexibility going forward should an opportunity open to get into that arena.

“I think everybody in our league, around that table, feels like it’s important for our tournament to be in New York periodically,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said Wednesday. “It’s just a question of where.”

While the Big East’s contract with the Garden is believed to contain options for either side, the earliest another conference could potentially get into the Garden for a year, if at all, is probably 2024.

Swofford has previously ruled out holding the tournament a week early and sharing the arena with the Big East, as the Big Ten did last year. And while the drive to get into Manhattan is strong – especially among former Big East schools like Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh – the ACC remains happy with Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as its primary New York pied-a-terre, as evidenced by its continuing presence in what has become an unofficial rotation between the two North Carolina sites, Washington and New York.

“That is a rotation that is working very well for us” Swofford said. “We’re still a relatively new expanded footprint as a conference. We’ve talked a lot about respecting the past and embracing the present and the future. … There doesn’t seem to be another league out there that can move their tournament around and have the success with it that we’ve been fortunate enough to have.”

Among other topics, Swofford confirmed that the ACC will open the 2019-20 basketball season with a slate of conference games, with one team – presumably Duke in the Champions Classic – omitted to make up the numbers. Beginning the season with ACC games is designed to provide inventory for the ACC Network, which remains on schedule for an August 2019 launch.

“We’ve talked a lot about how do you tip off the basketball season in a way that you kick off the football season? And that’s really hard to do, because of obvious circumstances,” Swofford said. “And our discussions have been more national about that. This is a way we can sort of address it just as a conference in terms of tipping off the year. And if you go back -- gosh, you can go back in the ‘60s, there were ACC conference games in December in the ‘60s. A lot of people forget that. I think it will be fun. I think it will be a terrific thing.”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock
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