Luke DeCock

Postponement flouts ACC, UNC precedent – DeCock

UNC fans cheer on the their team before N.C. State's game against North Carolina at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015.
UNC fans cheer on the their team before N.C. State's game against North Carolina at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. News & Observer file photo

The ACC’s bad-weather policy for basketball is simple, if perhaps short-sighted: If the teams, officials and event-management staff can get to and from the arena, the game will be played.

That’s why, last winter, N.C. State hosted Duke in a half-full building during a state of emergency. That’s why, three years ago, Duke and North Carolina would have played in an ice storm if the Blue Devils’ bus had been able to get to Durham to pick them up.

By those established criteria, Saturday night’s game between N.C. State and North Carolina would have been played, as scheduled, at 8 p.m. at the Smith Center. The Wolfpack bus was ready to roll from Raleigh. The officials and ESPN crew were in place. Roads were clear enough Saturday afternoon for at least a skeleton staff to travel to the arena.

Elsewhere, Duke hosted Boston College a few miles down the road, albeit in the afternoon, even as N.C. Central postponed games in Durham. Louisville needed help from UPS to get off its plane at an otherwise closed Atlanta airport, but made it to Georgia Tech.

Conditions in the Triangle were icy Saturday night, and Gov. Roy Cooper began his tenure asking people to stay off the roads, but that never stopped the ACC before. And ESPN, the tail that wags the ACC dog, made the State-Carolina game the centerpiece of its Saturday evening programming, promoting Dennis Smith Jr. and Joel Berry heavily throughout the day.

Instead, the game was postponed to 1 p.m. Sunday with North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham citing “the risks associated with people being on the roads late tonight versus playing tomorrow afternoon” in a statement, noting the ACC policy “takes into consideration all the appropriate people getting home safely as well.”

On its face, North Carolina’s position is correct. It was dangerous out there. There’s no doubt about that. The ACC should be quicker to postpone games than it is, and should probably have postponed more games more quickly in the past.

But that’s part of a bigger debate over how the ACC and its schools value safety compared to the wishes of ESPN and crowded schedules – highlighted by the decision to play four football games in North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, although it’s infinitely harder to reschedule a football game than a basketball game. The policy may be flawed, but until it’s changed, it should be applied consistently.

So as long as certain conditions are met, the show must go on – and as far as N.C. State was concerned, they were.

“We were prepared to travel to Chapel Hill for this evening’s game, since both teams and the officials were available,” N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said in a statement, adding that she was “disappointed,” in what appears to be a tour de force of understatement.

This particular postponement flouts not only ACC precedent, but UNC precedent.

In February 2014, North Carolina urged its own fans not to bother coming to the Duke game – “We want people to use discretion and follow Governor (Pat) McCrory’s advice to stay off the roads,” Cunningham said before that game was eventually postponed – but even though the roads would arguably have been even more dangerous that night, the game was going to be played right up until Duke’s bus issues, three hours before game time.

Just as Carolina fans accused Duke of being scared to play at a Smith Center flooded with students filling empty booster seats, State fans will accuse North Carolina of being afraid to play in a Smith Center without students or boosters. (Dorms opened Saturday after winter break, but it’s hard to imagine many students could get back to campus in these conditions, even though the university was officially operating normally, in everything other than basketball.)

As for the ACC, it’s at the mercy of its schools, to a degree. Certainly, pressure is applied behind the scenes by the ACC and ESPN, but if a school says its game-operations people can’t get home safely, which is what North Carolina said, that triggers a postponement. What North Carolina said three years ago, in a similar situation, is immaterial. (An ACC spokesperson declined to comment.)

Postponing Saturday night’s game to daylight is probably the safe move. But the same was true three years ago whether Duke’s bus was late or not, and the same was true of the State-Duke game last year when McCrory again urged people to stay off the roads, and so many other times the show went on in the snow. Or ice.

That was the way it always was in the ACC, until it wasn’t.

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

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