Duke-UNC postponement highlights ACC's odd inclement-weather policy

While snow fell steadily in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, officials from North Carolina and Duke decided to play on.
While snow fell steadily in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, officials from North Carolina and Duke decided to play on. Andrew Carter -- acarter@newsobsever.com

North Carolina’s game against Duke was postponed yesterday, and moved to Feb. 20 – a week from today – at the Smith Center. The postponement announcement came a little before 6 p.m. after about six inches of snow had fallen in Orange County, and probably after some people were already en route to the game – treacherous driving conditions and all.

In the end, officials made the right decision but for the wrong reason. The game was postponed, but not because common sense dictated that it should be. No, it was postponed because, according to UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, Duke’s bus wasn’t going to arrive at Duke in time to take the Blue Devils to Chapel Hill.

Even if Duke’s bus had been on time, it’s debatable – and highly questionable – that it would have been able to navigate down eight miles of snow-covered, abandoned-vehicle-blocked 15-501. Duke was planning on leaving at 6 p.m., despite widespread reports of treacherous driving conditions and gridlocked roads.

If its bus would have been on time, maybe Duke would have made it without incident. That should have been beside the point, though. By mid-afternoon, it was obvious that area roads would remain in poor condition for the rest of the day. It was equally obvious that anyone – be it a college basketball team, a group of referees, media members, fans – was going to have a difficult time making it to the Smith Center.

Yet the game was always a go. Why?

Because the ACC’s inclement weather policy said it should. The policy is a pretty simple one: If the teams can get there, and if the referees can get there, and if enough members of the game operations staff can get there, then the league says the game should be played.

On paper, it makes enough sense. But not all games are created equally. So why should a UNC-Duke basketball game be subject to the same inclement weather policy as, say, a Clemson-Virginia Tech women’s basketball game? (No offense intended, of course, to Clemson and Virginia Tech women’s basketball.)

A UNC-Duke basketball game, whether it’s at the Smith Center or Cameron Indoor Stadium, is annually one of the ACC’s marquee events. It creates national interest, and people are willing to travel great distances to watch these teams play. My colleague and friend Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer was even willing to walk 11 miles to cover it.

Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, encouraged ticket-holders to stay at home, and it’s a safe assumption that most would have. Some, though, likely wouldn’t have missed the game for any reason, and they would have put themselves and others at risk by driving in awful conditions. And even if Duke had made it on time the Blue Devils, presumably, would have had to get back to Durham. The roads only became worse after it became dark, and freezing rain fell into the night.

The ACC’s inclement weather policy is all well and good, but it lacks the element of common sense. Indeed, the Smith Center, with a crowd primarily made up of students, would have been electric on Wednesday night. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the game would have made it memorable regardless of what happened on the court. Still, it was absurd to assume that Duke – or anyone else, for that matter – would have been able to arrive safely.

At around noon on Wednesday, UNC decided to close its campus at 1 p.m. Not long after that, both Duke and UNC should have saved everyone the time and made the easy and obvious call to postpone their basketball game. Instead they waited. And waited. And by the time it was postponed who knows how many people were out on the roads on their way to see a game that had no business being played.