On Sunday, after an ACC team wins three (four? five?!) straight games to claim the conference championship, confetti will fly in the Greensboro Coliseum. A trophy will be awarded. The tournament MVP may even sit in the basket while holding a large cardboard placard of the conference logo, as Florida State’s Michael Snaer did in 2012.
And then the winners will enjoy this remarkable accomplishment for all of three hours before it is entirely eclipsed and nearly forgotten, as the winners hustle back to campus or pile into a hotel conference room to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.
At a time when the ACC tournament means as much as it ever has, especially in terms of determining a true champion, it’s time to think about moving the championship game back to Saturday, when it was played before 1982.
Sunday has made sense for a long time, but college basketball has changed and the ACC has changed. Selection Sunday is now a far bigger deal than the ACC championship game; by the time Monday’s paper comes out, all that matters is seeding, not Sunday’s result. The ACC tournament, meanwhile, isn’t the three-day convention-slash-party it once was, with fewer fans making a long weekend out of it.
It’s simple: End the regular season on the previous Saturday. Move the current 15-team tournament schedule up a day. Play the title game on Saturday. Give the champion time to celebrate and every ACC team an extra day of rest heading into the NCAA tournament.
There are some very real and tangible reasons not to move the championship game up to Saturday, including giving up prime national television slots on Saturday and Sunday, and because of the way the tournament itself is bid and awarded, it wouldn’t happen right away. But it’s a good time for the ACC to start thinking about it with potential host sites and television partners, because it’s only hurting itself by playing the championship game on Sunday.
Back in the old days, the days of the eight- or nine-team ACC, the tournament was a destination. An event. People from every school would take off work and make a weekend out of it, forging the bonds that made the ACC what it is: Buying a beer for a rival fan in the lobby of Atlanta’s Omni Hotel or sharing the universal experience of waiting in line at Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro.
For years, it was a Thursday-Friday-Saturday event. In 1982, the championship game was moved to Sunday, where it has been ever since. On Fridays, eight of nine teams would play, giving almost every ACC fan base a reason to make the trip, many sticking around to root against the favorite on Sunday. This year, post-expansion, almost half the league will already be eliminated by the time Friday rolls around.
While expansion has altered that experience forever, it has infused more meaning into the tournament itself. Without a round-robin schedule, the regular season no longer does as thorough a job of sorting through the league’s teams. The old Southern Conference always needed a tournament to determine a true champion because there were so many teams playing such irregular schedules, a tradition that carried over to the ACC; what was old is once again new.
Why not give that champion a day to savor the feat, while the ACC basks in that reflected glory? As things stand now, by the time the Monday newspaper hits the stands, the NCAA tournament is big news and the ACC tournament is history.
The ACC tournament means more now than it has in decades. Give the team that wins a day to enjoy it.