Last week, The Debate reviewed the football schedule to determine what game(s) was the one to circle on the schedule. This week, the discussion turns back to basketball and the oddity that is opening day in the ACC for 2019. On November 6, the Heels will open up their season with a conference contest against Notre Dame in Chapel Hill. Seems like a good topic to debate, so this week I am joined by Quintin Schwab to take on the subject.
Now, on with the show.
The Debate for the week of May 13: Is the opening game against Notre Dame a positive for Carolina and the ACC?
Point by Quintin: This schedule is ridiculous.
You know what sounds like a good and proper season-opening game for the UNC basketball team? Wofford. Northern Iowa. Even Michigan State. You know what doesn’t? Notre Dame. Especially now that the Fighting Irish are allegedly (correction: in reality) a fellow ACC team, this makes almost no sense at all.
The sense it does make is dollars for the soon-to-launch new ACC Network and accommodating a now 20-game conference schedule. However, that’s about where it ends, as the rather blatant disregard for basketball precedent overwhelms this change. By the way, since the season-opening head-to-head marathon/ACCN debut is a moneymaker on its face, why isn’t the ACC pulling rank and forcing its biggest cash cow Duke out of its obligation in the State Farm Classic to participate?
The plainest argument against this slate is that most sports leagues typically aim for a seasonal progression of intrigue and importance and avoid scheduling the higher stakes games early on, particularly right off the bat. They wouldn’t schedule UNC against Duke in this showcase, right? Players and teams want and need some games under their belt before the biggest bouts. I dislike that the NFL regularly schedules division matchups in the first couple weeks of the year, and again, TV dictates a lot of that.
In college basketball, it has always worked: non-conference regular season, then conference regular season, then conference postseason tournament, then national postseason tournament. An exception is the customary late January out-of-conference tilt the Heels played for many years against a team like Connecticut or Arizona, as Duke would do versus St. John’s or Temple (which the Devils might still do?). And conversely, Roy Williams’ first ACC game as Carolina head coach was an epic 119-114 triple-overtime loss to Wake Forest in the Dean Dome on Dec. 19, 2003.
The ACC does schedule a couple of early December conference contests each season (remember BC’s sweet take down of Duke in 2017?). But that’s the point – why not do this thing later? If the network wants to capitalize on a pre-New Year ACC preview type of event (even a round robin over 2-3 days?) as part of an effort to perhaps desperately compete with the gridiron, why don’t they launch as a holiday special? Don’t strangle the very first game.
To college basketball: although many others and I love you 12 months a year, your time to shine is February, March, and the first week of April, once both college and pro football wrap up. Sense the room and pick your spots.
Counterpoint by Joe: This could be a good thing.
Opening day for college basketball has grown into an event over the last several years. The official start to the season in 2019 will be November 5. The following day, the Heels open the conference slate.
The professional leagues, along with college football, have national holidays to celebrate opening day. A few years ago, college basketball did not even have a recognizable single day when the season started. The midnight practice sessions brought some fun to the beginning of organized activities, but the games always sort of snuck up on fans.
That changed a few years ago when there was a concerted effort to schedule tons of games on the same day. The problem is that very few of those games were tight contests. The eyes of fans turned to their favorite teams and the teams with big name recruits. Duke versus Kentucky last year and the Carolina game on an aircraft carrier were notable exceptions and were the highlight of the day.
The ACC is making sure that there are no unimportant games at the start of the year. Teams will have to be even more focused in preseason practices and scrimmages to prepare for top meaningful competition right out of the gate. Coaches will be challenged to have their teams ready for such an early game and I believe that Roy Williams will be up for the task.
Also, consider how tight the ACC regular season race typically finishes. Dropping a game in November could be the difference between a double-bye and a difficult tournament Wednesday ACC tournament game. Teaching teams to play with emotion early in the year will be a valuable lesson as the season moves on.
Finally, the ACC schedule has been terrible and any attempt to modify it should be seen as progressive. Teams should not play each other twice in a two week period of time. Want to make the UNC-Duke game meaningful? Play it early enough that there is time to reflect on the outcome and to gloat to Duke fans. There must be more than 17 days between the two contests especially since the ACC Tournament starts a few days after the second one. The 20 game schedule will allow for more uniformity of schedule difficulty, which is also a positive.
Get the team focused and ready for play early. That’s an entertaining start to the year.
Time for you to decide! Is the game against Notre Dame an early season benefit? Is it just a bad idea solely intended to draw attention to the new network? Should conference basketball games wait until after football bowl season?
As always, readers are encouraged to join in through the comments and point out what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we never thought of. Also, please feel free to provide suggestions for future topics so we can cover what interests readers and what information is needed to ensure victory when debating slow-witted friends who don’t read the articles!