ACC basketball tournament future? League exec offers insight


North Carolina's RJ Davis takes the floor before UNC's game against Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC men's basketball tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

North Carolina’s RJ Davis takes the floor before UNC’s game against Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC men’s basketball tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

ehyman@newsobserver.com

In March, the ACC basketball tournament will be in Greensboro. In 2024, it will be in Washington. After that, nobody honestly knows. Including the person who runs it.

Where the tournament goes in 2025 and beyond is an open question, although it’s fair to expect that Charlotte and Washington will remain repeat hosts – NBA arenas located in vibrant downtowns in the heart of the ACC footprint. Greensboro, meanwhile, will get at least two more chances to host before 2033 if the ACC accepts the state of North Carolina’s $15 million inducement to keep its headquarters within these borders.

After that, it’s up for debate. A return to Brooklyn? Could Tampa or Atlanta get back in the mix? What about new venues like Pittsburgh or Boston? The ACC has always cast flirtatious glances at Madison Square Garden, which remains controlled by the Big East through 2028. And the league’s 75th anniversary and a potential sentimental return to Raleigh in 2028 could very well fall in this window as well.

“I do like the cities that have been in the rotation,” ACC basketball commissioner Paul Brazeau told the ACC Now podcast. “There could be one that goes out, one that comes in. I do like the rotation a little bit.”

That rotation will have seen the tournament go to Greensboro three times, Brooklyn and Washington twice and Charlotte once since 2015, although Greensboro got a freebie in there, hosting the COVID-impacted 2021 tournament which was scheduled for DC Because of that, the ACC tacked two years onto the last cycle: Greensboro in 2023, to make up for the lost 2020 tournament, and Washington in 2024, to make up for 2021.

But the future slate is wide open now, and Brazeau said new shooters like Pittsburgh and Boston, both ACC cities for more than a decade, will be worth consideration if they bid.

“There are other markets that are really interested and would really like it,” Brazeau said. “Pittsburgh really would love to host. … The NCAA tournament’s been there a couple of times recently. Boston is hosting the NCAA tournament (in 2024) as a site and they’ve been terrific for the NCAA tournament and we’ve never gone there.

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ACC commissioner Jim Phillips watches during the first half of UNC’s game against Florida State in the semifinals of the ACC Mens Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, NC, Friday, March 12, 2021. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

“I think those two markets in particular, to have this gem every now and then, would come out. I know it’s a little farther to travel for the traditional fan base, a little farther, but two really good cities to go to.”

Despite complaints about the attendance and atmosphere in Brooklyn – and the inescapable reality that the tournament just hasn’t resonated in New York City, especially going head-to-head with the Big East – Brazeau said playing the tournament there has intangible value for the acc.

“You’re in a big, big pond. We know that,” Brazeau said. “We have some other reasons that make it very good for us. Because who is attending is as important as how many are attending.”

As for the blue-sky proposal to hold the 75th tournament back where it started in Raleigh, with the Tuesday games at Reynolds and the rest of it at PNC Arena or in Greensboro, Brazeau said it’s not out of the question.

“Other than the attendance, the ticketing situation — it’s not the old Reynolds where you had twice (as many seats). You’d have to take some looks at that,” he said. “Then do you go to PNC? Some people would have to get through that, that’s the State’s home court. Everything can be on the table.”

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North Carolina’s Brady Manek (45) heads back to the locker room after UNC’s 63-43 victory over Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC men’s basketball tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, Thursday, March 10, 2022. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Atlanta last hosted in 2012, when the ACC was unhappy with the condition of what is now called State Farm Arena, but that facility underwent substantial renovations in 2017 and 2018. The ACC set attendance records in 2001 at the long-gone Georgia Dome, then went back in 2009 with less encouraging results, provoking a downsize to the NBA arena.

Tampa was a ticket-sales disappointment in 2007, but the entertainment district around Amalie Arena has grown dramatically since then and the SEC held its tournament there last spring. Orlando would also presumably have a chance to get in the mix should the ACC decide to move there.

If the ACC accepts the state’s offer, at least four of the nine tournaments from 2025 to 2033 will have to be held within North Carolina, two of those in Greensboro. Assuming Washington and Brooklyn remain in the mix, that doesn’t leave a ton of room for newcomers like Pittsburgh and Boston or renewals with Atlanta or Tampa – if the ACC even goes to 2032 in this bid cycle.

Either way, when planning an event this large, March 2025 is coming quickly.

“Again, it’ll be an all-encompassing situation from hotels to the availability of the arena,” Brazeau said. “It’s the whole thing together. It’s not one little piece. The state of North Carolina has made a terrific offer to the ACC in ways and that has some commitments to it, if we should be here in North Carolina. … Starting in 2025, we’ll be setting a new course.”

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered six Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He is the current president of the US Basketball Writers Association, was the 2020 winner of the National Headliner Award as the country’s top sports columnist and has twice been named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

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