Right about the time the sleet started coming down in Durham – and coming down hard – common sense prevailed. Wednesday’s Duke-North Carolina game finally was postponed at 5:41 p.m., less than four hours before tipoff, when the Blue Devils’ bus couldn’t make it to campus, let alone Chapel Hill.
If that’s what it took to pull the plug, fine. It was insane the game was a viable concern for that long. It should have been postponed hours earlier.
When a school tells its own fans not to come – “People with tickets to this evening’s game are encouraged to stay off the roads,” was North Carolina’s official position – surely that’s a good indicator it’s not the best idea in the world to play a basketball game in these conditions.
There was no legitimate reason to send a single person – fan, game staffer, team – into this weather and this traffic on this night, even if that meant ESPN’s 9 p.m. time slot went unfilled.
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The conference places a high priority on playing games if the teams, game staff and officials can get there. The show, the ACC insists, must go on – which is how North Carolina ended up playing Georgia Tech last month in the middle of a storm that shut down Atlanta for days. ESPN and Raycom sent their production trucks into Chapel Hill early for just this eventuality.
At 2 p.m., the Chapel Hill Police Department announced, “Pretty much every major road in town is gridlocked.” At 3:45 p.m., North Carolina sent out a release reaffirming the game would be played as scheduled. That represented the ACC passing final judgment on the matter, presuming Duke would be able to make it the 10 miles down U.S. 15-501.
Fans should have stayed home in these dismal conditions whether the game was played or not. Of course they should. And if it were anyone but Duke visiting the Smith Center on Wednesday, perhaps they would have. It’s folly to think people would be deterred from trying to attend this game by anything but postponement.
And if they found merely getting to the Smith Center was tough, it would have been easy sledding compared to leaving. When the game was over, thanks to the loathsome 9 p.m. start dictated by television, everyone from fans to the teams themselves would have started home in the middle of an ice storm that’s expected to glaze the area with as much as a half-inch of ice.
Meanwhile, down in icy Atlanta, Wednesday’s Boston College-Georgia Tech game was long ago postponed. College basketball games all over North Carolina suffered a similar fate. For some reason, though – perhaps it was ESPN, the tail that doesn’t just wag the ACC’s dog but walks it around the block – it was full steam ahead with Duke and North Carolina right up until the Blue Devils’ bus ran out of steam.
Wednesday’s game has been rescheduled for Feb. 20, only two days before Duke will host Syracuse. It’s a logical opening in the schedule, but it’s a missed opportunity to think a little bigger.
In 1991, because of the outbreak of the Gulf War, N.C. State’s game at North Carolina in January was postponed. The teams instead played back-to-back in February, the first at Reynolds Coliseum, the second at the Smith Center. It was hectic. It was far from ideal. And it was emotional, unique and memorable.
North Carolina and Duke are scheduled to finish the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, March 8. Friday and Sunday were open for both teams. What a weekend that might have been.