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Carter: Blame the ACC for delay in UNC-Duke postponement

By Andrew Carter - acarter@newsobserver.com
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Harry Lynch - hlynch@newsobserver.com
Students wait in the snow for seats for the UNC-Duke game at the Smith Center Wednesday. The game was later postponed when the Blue Devils couldn’t make it to Chapel Hill.

CHAPEL HILL North Carolina’s game against Duke was postponed Wednesday and moved to Feb. 20 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, not because common sense dictated it should be. It was postponed because, according to UNC athletics 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 – it would have been able to navigate down eight miles of snow-covered, abandoned-vehicle-blocked U.S. 15-501. Duke was planning on leaving at 6 p.m., despite widespread reports of treacherous driving conditions and gridlocked roads.

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

Yet the game was 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 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 encouraged ticket-holders to stay home, and it’s a safe assumption 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 after the game, the Blue Devils, presumably, would have had to get back to Durham. The roads only became worse after dark, and freezing rain fell into the night.

The ACC’s inclement weather policy lacks the element of common sense. The Smith Center, with a crowd primarily made up of students, would have been electric Wednesday night. 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 Wednesday, UNC decided to close its campus at 1 p.m. Not long after that, 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.

Carter: acarter@newsobserver.com; 919-923-8235; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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