By Al Featherston
August 2, 2006
In just over a half-century of existence, the ACC has generated a rich history -- plenty of dramatic games, many memorable personalities and more than its share of behind-the-scenes intrigue. It also has produced an amazing collection of myths and misinformation.
There are stories that just won't die, despite repeated attempts by the league's historians to debunk the lies and correct the distortions.
Of course, it's hard to kill a myth. Just to offer one example, almost 40 years ago, CBS ran a series of televised tests to see if Lee Harvey Oswald could have fired three bullets at President John F. Kennedy in 4.5 seconds, as the Warren Commission Report claimed. Even though 11 testers, ranging from gun experts to novices who had never fired a rifle before, were filmed matching Oswald's rate of fire (and mostly matching or bettering his accuracy), conspiracy buffs continue to assert that it was impossible for Oswald to have gotten off three shots in 4.5 seconds. That was a key claim in Oliver Stone's movie JFK, released 24 years after CBS proved that it wasn't impossible.
Nothing in ACC history is quite as dramatic or as tragic as the Kennedy assassination, but the misinformation about league events and personalities is just as hard to refute. No matter how many times reporters explain that Charlie Scott was not the ACC's first black basketball player, fans continue to repeat the myth. Duke haters refuse to listen to the truth about Mike Krzyzewski's supposed petition to the NCAA to remove Pete Gaudet's losses from his record. N.C. State rivals won't stop laughing about a parade that never happened.
Some of the myths, such as the frequently repeated claim that there were no turnovers in the 1974 ACC championship game, are outright mistakes. Some, such as the story that Everett Case brought the original version of big-time basketball to Tobacco Road and the ACC, are distortions of a more complicated truth.
What follows is an attempt to address some of the most prevalent myths that still surround ACC sports. This writer has no illusions about killing any of these historical misperceptions. But these myths are like kudzu; even though you never can eradicate it, you still need to whack it back from time to time, to keep it under control.
1. Everett Case brought big-time basketball to North Carolina (and, hence, to the ACC).
It's hard to make this claim when you consider that North Carolina played in the NCAA title game in 1946 -- the season before Case arrived in Raleigh. Wake Forest had played in the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, back when Case still was coaching high school basketball in Indiana. And Duke owned the finest basketball arena in the South and had enjoyed considerable national success before Case's arrival.
Obviously, the basketball on Tobacco Road at least occasionally was pretty "big-time" even before Case's arrival.
What Case did do was sell basketball as a significant sport to the North Carolina public. When he arrived in Raleigh in the spring of 1946, football was king and basketball -- as good as it was -- was a winter exercise with a handful of devotees and little popular support. The architect who built Duke's 8,800-seat Indoor Stadium in 1939-40 wanted the school to scale the plans back. He suggested that Duke would never fill its huge new basketball palace.
And he was right -- or at least he was until Case arrived after World War II and turned basketball into an event. Before he coached a single game at State, Case revised the plans for Reynolds Coliseum to up the seating capacity from the planned 8,000 to 11,400. Before the new arena was finished in 1949, the crush of fan hysteria had grown so great that several games at the old Walter Thompson Arena were disrupted by overflow crowds.
Case sold the excitement and drama of basketball. The irony is that he never had quite as much national success as the North Carolina team achieved in the year before his arrival. Case's only Final Four trip ended with a third-place finish in 1950.
So saying that Case brought big-time basketball to the ACC is a distortion of what really happened. Instead, the Wolfpack icon showed ACC fans that basketball was a big-time sport. He did more than any other individual to make the ACC a basketball-first league. That's not a bad legacy.
2. Duke petitioned the NCAA to remove the team's 4-15 finish in 1995 from coach Mike Krzyzewski's record and assign them to interim coach Pete Gaudet instead.
Duke was 9-3 and ranked No. 11 in the nation when the school announced on Jan. 7, 1995, that Krzyzewski would take a leave of absence because of back problems. The coach had undergone back surgery to correct a degenerative disc in late October, after a week of practice. Told to take six weeks off for recovery, Krzyzewski was back at practice in 10 days.
Although the season started well, Krzyzewski's back problem was aggravated by a long plane flight to and from Hawaii for a Christmas tournament. He was forced to step down a week after his return, just before a trip to Georgia Tech.
When Duke sports information director Mike Cragg learned that Krzyzewski would not be returning that season, he called the NCAA statistical bureau and asked whether the ensuing games should be counted on Krzyzewski's record or Gaudet's. He was referred to the NCAA manual -- Rule 188.8.131.52:
"Determination of Head Coach at an Institution. In order for a coach to be credited with wins, losses or ties, that individual must be designated as the institution's head coach for the entire sports season. Individuals serving on an advisory or preseason basis may not be credited with the wins, losses or ties. If the head coach is not present at a contest due to illness or other unexpected circumstances, or otherwise is unable to complete the sports season, it is up to the institution to determine whether the win, loss or tie for that contest(s) shall be credited to the head coach or to an interim or assistant coach, as determined by the institution prior to the contest(s)."
At that point, Cragg made the decision to credit the remaining games of the 1994-95 season to Gaudet -- before the Duke team collapsed without Krzyzewski.
Cragg's decision was not unusual. Kansas coach Phog Allen, who coached Dean Smith in Lawrence, was ordered by doctors to take a leave of absence after 12 games of the 1947 season. His place was taken by assistant Howard Engleman, and Engleman is credited with the eight wins and six losses that Kansas recorded in the season's final 14 games. Allen returned the next season and coached another nine seasons.
More recently, Rick Majerus stepped down one game into the 2000-01 season to care for his dying mother. Interim coach Dick Hunsaker coached the final 30 games that season and is credited with the team's 18-12 record over that span. Majerus returned the next fall and coached almost another two seasons before stepping down for health reasons.
Not every school makes that decision. Last February, Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton took a medical leave of absence after he was involved in a car crash that resulted in DUI charges. He was replaced on the bench by his son (and top assistant) Sean Sutton, but the school announced that any wins or losses over the remainder of the season would be credited to the elder Sutton.
Eddie Sutton, who was hoping to end his career with 800 wins, had 794 career victories at the time of the crash. His team added just four more without him in 2006. Unlike Krzyzewski, Allen and Majerus, Sutton retired after his leave of absence, ending his career with 798 wins, just short of the magical 800 figure.
The point is that under NCAA rules, the school must choose (ahead of time) where the wins and losses will go. There was no petition in Duke's case, and no special consideration from the NCAA. Duke decided before the games were played that the wins and losses would go to Gaudet, and they did.
3. Charlie Scott was the ACC's first black basketball player.
Scott made his varsity debut for the Tar Heels on Dec. 2, 1967 -- two seasons after Maryland's Bill Jones cracked the ACC's color line.
The integration of the ACC is an interesting and complex story. Jones, a guard from Towson, Md., and Pete Johnson, a guard from Washington, D.C., played on the Maryland freshman team during the 1964-65 season (in an era when freshmen were not allowed to play varsity ball). At the same time, William Cooper, a walk-on from Elm City, N.C., played for the UNC freshman team.
The next season, Jones was the only one of the three to make the jump to a varsity roster. Johnson was redshirted for academic reasons, and Cooper dropped off the UNC team after a week of varsity practice to focus on his pursuit of a business degree. He graduated from UNC and became a career officer in the U.S. Army. Two of Cooper's children attended UNC, including Tonya Cooper, a starter on the school's 1994 NCAA women's champions.
Jones didn't make much of an impact as a player during his sophomore season. Hampered by a lingering foot injury and playing out of position at forward, the ACC's first black player averaged 2.8 points in 16 games.
A year later, while Scott was playing on the UNC freshman team, two other black players joined Jones on ACC varsity rosters. His old freshman teammate Pete Johnson became eligible at Maryland, while C.B. Claiborne, a slender guard from Danville, Va., became the first black on Tobacco Road, when he played for Duke.
None of the trio became a star, although Jones -- healthy at last -- improved his scoring average to 11.6 points as a junior, while Johnson averaged 13.1 points in his sophomore year. Claiborne, like Jones in 1966, was hampered by injuries and averaged a modest 1.7 points in just 12 games.
Maybe that's why Scott's debut stands out in so many minds. Unlike his predecessors, the 6-6 New York native was an immediate star, averaging 17.6 points and earning first-team All-ACC honors for the league's best team. He became the focus of racial controversy when he charged (with considerable justification) that the 1969 ACC player of the year vote was tainted with racism.
By that time, Jones already had graduated at Maryland, and a new generation of black stars was in the pipeline. Wake Forest's Charlie Davis would become the first black chosen as the ACC player of the year, in 1971. Robert McAdoo, David Thompson, John Lucas, Len Elmore ... all soon helped take ACC basketball to a new level.
It certainly would be accurate to identify Scott as the ACC's first black star. But Maryland's Jones was the league's first black player.
4. Florida State threatened to pull out of the ACC if Miami wasn't admitted as the centerpiece to a three-team expansion in the summer of 2003.
Sometimes Clemson and Georgia Tech are suggested as possible ACC departures, but the myth usually revolves around Florida State, which was indeed a strong advocate of expansion. It probably stems from an article in the Charlotte Observer, which claimed that former FSU president Sandy D'Alemberte threatened to pull out of the ACC in 2001, if it didn't expand. The newspaper later ran a retraction of the article, blaming the threat on athletic director Dave Hart instead of D'Alemberte.
Hart responded with an e-mail to the newspaper, denying the charge: "At approximately the time line suggested in the Observer story, I expressed to the commissioner the fact that I was very concerned about the possibility of the ACC being left behind if serious expansion discussions were not held. Our president was never involved in that discussion, and I certainly would not characterize my statement as a threat, nor do I believe it was taken as a threat by the ACC."
T.K. Wetherell, the former FSU football player who replaced D'Alemberte as the school's president just as expansion talks were heating up, emphatically denied that the threat to pull out of the ACC was ever made.
Hart explained the facts to another Florida reporter during the long expansion debate. The idea that FSU -- or any other ACC school -- would threaten to leave the league was silly, he claimed, for a simple reason: The ACC was (even before expansion) the most lucrative athletic conference in the country. Per-school payouts were significantly higher than the second-place SEC and the third-place Big Ten.
That's why schools such as Miami and Virginia Tech were fighting so hard to get into the ACC. They wanted a piece of the league's overflowing financial pie. There was no realistic chance that FSU would give that up.
And where would the Seminoles have gone? The SEC already owned the Florida TV market with the Florida Gators and already had the 12 teams it needed to stage a football championship. While uninformed fans might dream of adding football-crazy FSU to the football-crazy SEC, it wouldn't have made financial sense for that league or the school.
There would have been another problem if Florida State had tried to leave the ACC for the SEC. Back in the early 1990s, when the independent Seminoles were shopping for a conference affiliation, there were those in the athletic department who wanted to join the SEC (which had not added Arkansas and South Carolina at that point and still was open to expansion). But an administrative study committee vetoed any approach to the SEC, arguing that that ACC -- with its far superior academic reputation -- was a better fit for the image the school wanted to project.
There would have been strong resistance from the FSU faculty if the administration had tried to jump from the ACC to the SEC. But that was never an option, despite the doomsday scenarios presented by some expansion advocates and by a handful of sloppy reporters.
There also was a lot of blather written about Notre Dame during the expansion process. The fact is, the ACC came closer to striking a deal with the Irish in 1991-92 than in 2002-03.
During the earlier expansion effort (when FSU became the ACC's ninth member), league officials had serious talks about integrating Notre Dame into the league as an associate member. Under the plan proposed at that time, the Irish would become a full league member in basketball and in a number of non-revenue sports, but would retain its independent status in football. However, the deal hinged on Notre Dame's agreement to play a certain number of football games each season against ACC teams.
The negotiations finally broke down when the two sides couldn't agree on how many games the Irish would be obligated to play against the ACC. Rejected by the ACC, Notre Dame struck a similar deal to become a semi-member of the Big East.
By the time expansion talk revived in 2002-03, ACC administrators had watched a number of leagues -- especially the Big East -- struggle with membership that fluctuated between sports. League officials reached a firm determination to maintain the ACC as an all-sports league.
Notre Dame was approached during the expansion process and was offered a bid, provided the Irish would join the ACC as a full-fledged member, in football as well as basketball. Notre Dame, which earlier had voted down a bid to join the Big Ten, wouldn't consider that offer, and the talks never went beyond the inquiry stage.
5. There were no turnovers in the 1974 ACC championship game.
The 1974 matchup between N.C. State and Maryland often is called the greatest game ever played. While it may deserve that appellation, it wasn't as flawless as many remember. There were, in fact, 29 turnovers in the game -- 14 by N.C. State, 15 by Maryland.
That extra turnover by the Terps decided the game. N.C. State was leading 101-100 in overtime, but Maryland had the ball with time to regain the lead. Point guard John Lucas, who played all 45 minutes in the overtime thriller, tried to throw a crosscourt pass to center Len Elmore, who also went the full 45 minutes. Lucas' pass was a bit high and the weary Elmore, thinking it must be intended for a player behind him, pulled down his arms at the last second. The ball sailed out of bounds for a turnover, giving N.C. State's Monte Towe a chance to clinch the 103-100 win with two free throws.
How did the myth of zero turnovers come about? It probably was a corruption of the observation that there were no violations during the game -- no three-second calls, no traveling calls, no palming, etc. Every turnover was a steal or -- in the case of Lucas' fatal mistake -- a lost ball.
6. N.C. State held a parade to celebrate its fourth-place ACC football finish in 2002.
That's the way the jibe usually is worded, although it would be more appropriate to say that State held a parade to celebrate one of the best -- and maybe the best -- football seasons in school history.
The 2002 Pack finished 11-3, beating Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. That was two more wins than any previous team in school history had achieved. The team's No. 12 finish in the final AP poll was just one spot below the best in school history (No. 11 in 1974). No. 10 Notre Dame was the highest-ranked team N.C. State had ever beaten in a bowl, and the Gator was the most prestigious bowl the Pack had ever won.
It could be argued that the season deserved a parade, despite the team's three close ACC losses. The only problem is, there never was a parade.
The closest thing to it was a celebration sponsored by the city of Raleigh. To reach the downtown ceremony, the team gathered on campus, climbed on buses and was given a police escort to the ceremony. That's actually the same procedure the team followed before most football games on the road. Visiting teams almost always are given a police escort from their hotel to the stadium.
There was no parade -- no published route, no fans lining the streets, no marching bands, no floats. Even the downtown celebration was the idea of city officials, politicians hoping to capitalize on the team's success.
That's far from the absurd over-reaction to a successful season that the parade story has been used to suggest.
7. Dean Smith invented the Four Corners delay game.
Like most innovations, UNC's famed Four Corners delay game was a variation of a long-established tactic.
Smith himself has explained that the idea of putting four players in the four corners of the halfcourt, then putting a player in the middle of the formation, was a standard tactic -- one that Bob Spears, his coach at Air Force, often used. Smith also cited Chuck Noe's "Mongoose" offense and the "Two-in-a-Corner" delay game pioneered by John McLendon, the Hall of Famer at North Carolina Central and Tennessee State, as forerunners of his spread offense.
Smith claimed in his autobiography that: "I have been wrongly credited as the sole creator of the Four Corners. ... If there was an innovation at Carolina, it was to put our best ball-handler in the middle, rather than a big man."
Yet even that bit of originality is not without dispute. Babe McCarthy ran what he called "The Domino" in the early 1960s at Mississippi State, which featured guard Bailey Howell in the middle of the spread.
The irony of the whole debate is that Smith hated the attention he got for "inventing" the Four Corners. He believed that he was being unfairly characterized as a delay-oriented coach, when in fact he preferred an up-tempo game. Smith was one of the prime supporters of the NCAA's shot-clock legislation, a rule change that essentially killed the famous Four Corners.
8. Florida State's addition to the league helped improve other ACC football teams.
Let's be clear, the addition of Bobby Bowden's superpower program did wonders for ACC prestige. Between 1992 (FSU's first official season in the league) and 2000, the Seminoles won two national titles (1993, 1999), lost in the national title game three times (1996, 1998, 2000) and finished in the top five of the AP poll every year. The ACC got a lot of credit for FSU's success.
But the myth is that FSU's addition to the league made the rest of the league's programs improve to catch up. Commentators constantly talk about how FSU's new rivals had to get better to survive. They ignore evidence that the ACC's eight pre-FSU members actually got worse -- not better -- in the years after FSU's addition to the league.
Let's compare the 12 years before FSU joined the league (1980-91) with the 12 years after FSU's arrival (1992-2003). That takes us up to the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004, which changed the equation again.
What did the eight traditional ACC members accomplish in the dozen years before FSU's arrival? Two national championships (Clemson-1981, Georgia Tech-1990), two major bowl bids, 30 minor bowl bids, seven top-10 AP finishes, 14 next-10 AP finishes, 14 consensus first-team All-Americans, 93 recognized All-Americans, 12 of 12 ACC titles.
And what did those same eight teams accomplish in the 12 years after FSU's arrival? No national championships, one major bowl bid, 46 minor bowl bids, two top-10 AP finishes, 14 next-10 AP finishes, 13 consensus first-team All-Americans, 87 recognized All-Americans, one outright ACC title, two shared ACC titles.
Head-to-head, it's no contest. On the field, the old eight ACC teams were much better off before inviting FSU to join the league. They were more of a force nationally and obviously much more of a force in ACC play. The only area that's improved for the old eight is in the matter of minor bowls, and that probably has more to do with the explosion of available bowls in the last decade than anything FSU's addition to the league has done.
There's simply no evidence that inviting FSU to join the ACC made the league's other teams better.
The corollary to this myth is the assertion that joining the ACC would bring FSU basketball up to the ACC's level of excellence. Again, that didn't happen.
The Seminoles were pretty good when they joined the ACC, earning three NCAA bids in the last four years before ACC admission. Pat Kennedy's first two ACC entries also did well, both finishing in second place in the league standings and both reaching the NCAA Sweet 16.
But far from helping improve the FSU program, being in the ACC appeared to hurt. Once that first class of pre-ACC players left, Kennedy could not replace them. In the last 13 years, FSU has qualified for the NCAA just once and finished in the league's second division 12 straight years, before last season's fifth-place finish in a 12-team league.
Of course, these are just a few of the myths and misinformation that surround the ACC. The distortions gain strength as they are repeated over and over on message boards, by talk-radio callers and occasionally by legitimate media members (who ought to know better).
Even as these words are written, new myths are being planted. N.C. State's recent basketball coaching search, as long and as crazy as it might have been, was nowhere near as crazy as many media sources -- guessing (or reading message boards) rather than doing real research -- made it seem. Half of the so-called candidates for the job -- including Frank Haith, John Brady, Phil Ford and Dereck Whittenburg -- were barely blips on State's radar.
And when you read or hear (as you are likely to) that Krzyzewski pulled strings behind the scenes to keep UNC from being sent to Greensboro for last spring's NCAA Tournament, ask yourself which members of the selection committee loved K so much that they would screw the much more popular Roy Williams as a favor to the Duke coach? Certainly not Virginia AD Craig Littlepage, who was an assistant coach at Virginia when Krzyzewski and former UVa coach Terry Holland were at odds, right?
When you're talking about myths, of course, the facts rarely matter.
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