“We’ve even got our own toilets.”

If you haven’t followed ACC basketball over the past few decades, I can’t even begin to tell you how stunning this news is:

… This may be March Madness, but the struggling economy has clearly taken a toll on attendance at most league tournaments. The ACC sold tickets to the general public for the first time since 1966. [Empahsis added.]

ACC tourney tickets once upon a time were the hardest tickets in sports.  You had to be extremely well connected to get a hold of some, or a very lucky student.  Now sold to anyone – wow, what a comedown.

I’m sure that will get spun as a direct casualty of the recession, but we aren’t exactly undergoing the first economic downturn in forty three years.  (And don’t forget the big arena excuse, except more tickets have been sold previously.)

What we’re witnessing with this is the end product of greed due to expansion of the conference plus the ongoing erosion of meaning for everything that goes on in college basketball before March Madness.   North Carolina is a #1 seed in the NCAA playoffs, and it didn’t even win the ACC championship.  Back in my day, that would have been complete heresy.  Now, it’s how things roll with an expanded tourney.

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UPDATE: “Damn it, I love college basketball.” (h/t Chuck Westbrook)

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21 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

21 responses to ““We’ve even got our own toilets.”

  1. kckd

    The major cause of college basketball’s fade into the sunset is the huge amount of high school players going directly to the pros and now, staying one year and going. There are just not any great players in college basketball any more it seems.

    Remember those Ewing- Mullin matchups, Nique-Jordan, Bird-Magic, etc, etc. etc.

    you just don’t see them any more. The first weekend of the tournament is actually more competitive now and more entertaining than before, but it does not carry over the second week or final four like it used to.

  2. kckd

    And Senator, aside from that play in game where two teams decide who will be the lamb at the slaughter for a #1 seed, the tourney hasn’t expanded in over twenty years.

    WTH did it take so long if this is solely due to the expanded tournament?

    • It’s a cumulative effect of little things that take away from what goes on before.

      Look at the #1 seeds this year – three of the four aren’t conference champs. Why even bother to go through the motions of having a basketball conference?

      • kckd

        There’s been many times in the past where the number one seeds haven’t been conference tournament champs. Just off the top of my head, UNC and UK both were number one seeds and won the NCAA tournament without winning the conference tournament.

        Again, the tournament has been at 64 teams since 1985 with the only addition being that play in game they started in 2001 I think.

        And you can actually argue that the college basketball seasons from 1985-1995 were some of the most exciting ever. Including many great conference tournaments at the time.

        The ACC tournament was probably in as high demand back then as ever and that’s when every freaking game was televised, unlike the sixties and seventies.

        • Like I said, I don’t expect you to understand the cachet of an ACC tourney ticket. All I can tell you is that if you’d have asked me in the seventies which would happen first, public sale of the tickets or the landing of a man on Mars, I would have picked the latter without hesitation.

          That you can brush something like this off – and, really, it’s little more than a throwaway line in the media reports as well, so you’re not alone there – tells me how much March Madness has devalued what leads up to it.

          • kckd

            For a variety of reason, that first statement is ridiculous when you know so little about me. Have you ever seen an ACC tournament game? You’re talking with someone who has, back when it was hard to get to.

            • My apologies. I’ve only been twice, myself.

              That being said, it’s sad when news like this doesn’t seem like it’s much of a big deal.

              • kckd

                There is a majority of reasons and it’s not simply the playoff. Again, that was expanded many, many years ago.

                It used to be the conference tournament was really your only guarantee in and only a handful of teams felt safe if they didn’t win the conference tournament.

                And in fact the conference tournament at one time carried more weight than the regular season champ.

                But the last ten years or so that’s not been the case. And that’s as much a reason for the demise of the conference tournament and why UNC sat their best player as anything else. They’d already won the conference championship that mattered.

                • And in fact the conference tournament at one time carried more weight than the regular season champ.

                  But the last ten years or so that’s not been the case.

                  In the ACC, at least, that’s always been the case. The conference champion has always (or at least as far back as I can remember) been determined by the winner of the tourney. And it’s been the tourney winner that gets the automatic slot in the NCAA tourney.

  3. TomReagan

    In the league’s defense, I believe this is the first time the tournament has been held in a football stadium. And having that thing in Charlotte for all those years was a huge driver for the popularity of the tournament.

    For me, though, the fact that UNC sat its best player in a conference semi just to rest him up for the big tournament–where they wouldn’t play a real threat until the third game anyway–shows just how unimportant conference titles have become.

    • Per the AJ-C:

      The ACC tournament has been held in the Georgia Dome once before, in 2001. That year, a record 40,000 ticket books for all the tournament games were sold. This year nine of the 12 ACC schools were unable to sell their full allotment, leaving the league to put seats on sale to the general public for the first time since 1966.

    • kckd

      The argument that these conference tournaments are not important isn’t something new. I remember in the early nineties when Duke lost in the first round of the ACC tournament, the guys calling it saying it was a blessing in disguise as it would give them rest for the NCAA tourney run coming up.

      If there is one thing I can point to that would say it’s not as important as it used to be with the 64 team field (not important to teams who have no doubt they are in that is), it’s that winning the conference tournament hasn’t been as good a forecaster of NCAA tourney success. Used to be teams that won their conference tournaments in the big conferences were almost guaranteed to make it to the sweet sixteen.

  4. peacedog

    It was possible to win a #1 without winning a conference tournament at any time in the history of the field of 64. I wouldn’t call it a common or frequent occurrence if memory is serving, but it’s one of those things that is dependent on the highly relative nature of a given year. It’s true that it was more difficult to get into the tournament, or get a #1, before that. But that changed in the early/mid 80s. Which is now 24 or so years ago. The world, as the writer once said, has moved on.

    Secondly, the ACC sold out all the other ACC tournaments post-expansion. I’m counting 4 previous tournaments but perhaps math has failed me. Hardly a large sample size, but then it’s not a stretch to wonder if perhaps the economy might be the biggest reason given that the ACC basketball tournament didn’t show signs of slowing down in terms of popularity before this. If we’re going to try and determine why this one failed to sell it, we should look at evidence. All of it.

    Thirdly, we’re not in the middle of an economic downturn. That you phrased that point this way is ludicrous, and the biggest problem I have with your post (see below).

    Fourth, predicting the same thing over and over and then having reality produce a situation similar to that prediction doesn’t indicate anything, especially when you grossly cherry pick the evidence.

    That isn’t to say that I don’t see problems with March Madness in the current format. However, the field of 64 (the play in game is silly but irrelevant, particularly for purposes of any discussion of format) isn’t really an issue (I’d consider arguments to shrink it, but that is a topic for another time), and the field of 64 hasn’t bothered a single ACC fan for the last 24 or however many years. Further, the expanded conference didn’t bother anyone the last four years, and sample size issues (as I noted) aside, I think you’ve got to look deep before you make any guesses as to why fans turned away this year.

    And you have got to stop turning everything into an anti-CFB playoff argument.

    • We’re not in the middle of an economic downturn? What would you call what we’re going through?

      And one more time – I’m not making an anti-playoff argument here. I’m pointing out that those who pooh-pooh the argument that an extended D-1 football tourney would have a negative impact on the regular season are missing plenty of evidence that suggests otherwise.

      The ACC basketball tournament has been recession-proof until now. It’s been expansion-proof, as you note, until now. It’s been large-venue-proof, as the AJ-C noted, until now. If you want to make a perfect storm argument, be my guest. But anyway you spin it, the fact remains that for the first time in 45 years, one of the most passionate fan groups in the world doesn’t care enough to sell the deal out.

  5. The Realist

    If you want to make an anti-playoff argument, try this one:

    North Carolina opted to sit Ty Lawson because the conference tournament did not matter. They get bounced from their conference tourney in the Semis after nearly getting bounced in the Quarters. Their reward? Getting a #1 seed.

    When the regular season does not matter and the conference tournament does not matter to teams not on the bubble (i.e., the good teams), then what are we left with?

    • ArchDawg

      Kudos. This is exactly what I was going to say. It seems though that some are willing to sacrifice the excitement of the regular season for a more exciting postseason, without realizing that the regular season is probably the biggest part about what makes college football so great in the first place.

  6. Great post. I’ve been thinking the same thing, but you did a great job of articulating this concept. Two follow-up points:

    1. You’re downplaying this economic downturn a little. It’s more severe than any of our lifetimes. It has been especially damaging for the upper income bracket people who would normally buy ACC tickets, as that class have seen their stock portfolios and home values get nailed.

    2. While the economy and the tournament site have something to do with the sea of available tickets, we need to take into account the fact that this year was not a perfect storm for the ACC. If Duke and UNC (the teams with the largest followings in the conference) were down, then there would be a ton of tickets on the market. If Miami and BC were the class of the conference, then there would be a ton of tickets on the market. If the ACC were collectively down, then there would be a ton of tickets on the market. In this case, UNC and Duke were the top two seeds and the conference is #1 in the Sagarin ratings. There should have been sufficient demand to fill the Georgia Dome, or at least to come close. The absence of the factors that I listed strengthens our argument that the size of the Big Dance has killed everything that comes before it.

    • You’re downplaying this economic downturn a little. It’s more severe than any of our lifetimes.

      That’s probably because I’m showing my age here.

      As bad as this one is (and it’s very bad, speaking from the perspective of someone who’s a real estate attorney), it’s not any worse – so far, at least – than what we got socked with in ’74-’75. Three of the four biggest banks in Atlanta came within a whisker of closing during that one. And the recession of the early 80’s, which resulted from Volcker’s electroshock therapy to cure what the earlier recession started, was as bad in its way, too.

      I think what’s going on now dwarfs the last three downturns, though, no question.

  7. HVL Dawg

    I think all of college basketball is going in the toilet and I think its because the best players are only around 1-2 years. When you only have 5 starters its a big deal.

    I’ve lived in NC for 15 years and there is not near the same dedicated, season long, fan interest that there was 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago when Maryland played Virginia on a Wednesday night in January it was game of the week on the ACC basketball network and the whole state of NC was tuned in. Not so anymore.

  8. Lowcountry Dawg

    Maybe we could revisit this subject after gathering data on other normally very hot sports tickets this spring. Examples would be the Masters, and Cubs and Red Sox baseball (I know I’ve left something out). If those events have tickets going begging, then the economy might be the explanation for the ACC tickets. If not then maybe the basketball regular season, or at least something about the ACC, is the problem.

    I tend to think the ACC did itself harm when it got past Georgia Tech and FSU. Maybe Johnny Swofford knew it at the time, but the ACC is a TV market conference now, not a geographhic conference. Your average Clemson, Tech, or FSU loyalist (not necessarily alumni) feels more kniship to Auburn or Mississippi State than Boston College or Maryland.

    Blutarsky, you game to look at the data?