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Jacobs: ACC Tourney In D.C. Is No Coincidence

Saturday, November 16, 2013 4:00pm

ACCSports.com columnist Barry Jacobs think it's no accident that the ACC Tournament is returning to Washington, D.C.

Take that, you mean old Big 10.

The unexpected news the ACC will return its men’s postseason basketball tournament to Washington, D.C., in 2016 is most certainly a shot across the bow of the Big 10 and the University of Maryland, its traitorous new member.

Just last month there was discussion at Operation Basketball about the hole in the ACC  footprint caused by next year’s departure by Maryland, headed for the Big 10 for financial and (wink, wink) academic reasons.

“That one, of all the expansion moves, that’s been the hardest one to understand,” said Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, a Maryland native and childhood Terrapin fan who played for Morgan Wootten at DeMatha High in Hyatteville, Md. “That’s an important town that we’ve kind of lost.”

Hosting the ACC Tournament at the Verizon Center emphatically replants the league flag on turf its members otherwise surround.

Brey spoke of arranging Georgetown-Notre Dame games in D.C. in the future. Don’t be surprised, either, if some enterprising soul creates an exempt in-season tournament in the area, featuring a panoply of ACC teams eager to mine the region’s rich vein of basketball talent.

Returning the ACC Tournament to D.C. for the first time since 2005 will be the only way for the area’s fans to see powers such as Duke and North Carolina in person.

Unless, that is, the Terps are paired with one of those teams in the annual ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The likelihood of that is comparable to finding gold in your backyard.

 “We won’t schedule Maryland,” Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said in September, according to the Washington Post. “And there’s nothing to that, just that it doesn’t work out for us to do that. That’s the only way it would happen, if they continue the Big 10/ACC.”

In a remarkable coincidence -- given that a supposedly neutral computer crafts league schedules -- neither Duke nor UNC will visit the Comcast Center this season as Maryland concludes its 61-year ACC tenure.

“That computer is just marvelous,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who had issues with his team’s conference schedule for different reasons.

In an era when game attendance is in decline, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are among their few likely sellouts for most ACC schools.

This scheduling twist can be seen as part of an overall strategy. The ACC has taken as many steps as possible to put a financial squeeze on Maryland’s financially strapped athletic program, including holding back league payments and continuing to insist on a huge exit fee.

Many Maryland fans join Brey in regretting the break with the ACC. Even men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon admits he’s sorry to leave the conference. But the stealth manner in which administrators executed the withdrawal makes it difficult to feel sympathetic as Maryland faces a long-term struggle to make ends meet.

By the way, the ACC should also consider moving its tournament to the United Center in Chicago. That would be convenient for Louisville and Notre Dame, another marketing and recruiting coup for the league, and a further thumbing of the nose at the Big 10 should anyone have such juvenile motives.

Speaking of Louisville, on the same day the ACC announced its return to D.C., the Kentucky school reportedly agreed to pay the last of an $11 million exit fee to the American Athletic Conference, a ravaged vestige of the old Big East. Louisville will join the ACC for the 2014-15 academic year.

That precedent doesn’t exactly bode well for Maryland and its fight in federal court to block the ACC’s attempt to exact its $52 million pound of flesh.

Louisville’s payment was apparently negotiated down from $15 million. Perhaps Maryland can make the ACC a similar reduced offer, hoping to move on. Negotiation should be easier now than a year ago, when the Terps announced they were jumping ship.

Back then there was concern that failing to hold fast to the full exit fee could ease the way for other ACC members to slip away. Later, all the conference’s remaining schools, including Louisville, granted the league their TV rights, largely mooting the issue of unexpected departures.