By David Glenn
March 8, 2007
Even before the opening jump shot, the ACC Tournament's first trip to the Sunshine State carried with it some disappointment. For the first time since 1966, there was a public sale of tickets. As recently as this morning (Thursday), it still was possible for a member of the general public to call the St. Pete Times ticket office and purchase a full, four-day booklet for the event. That's not something folks have come to expect from this wildly popular event, which has become known as the "crown jewel" of the best basketball conference in America. The silver lining, of course, is that the ACC Tournament has never been more available to those fans who aren't prominent members of the 12 member schools' booster clubs. At Duke, for example, only those contributors at or above the $10,000-per-year level have had access to tournament tickets in recent years. This time, because so many of the higher-ranking fans declined the opportunity to purchase tournament tickets, Duke supporters all the way down to the $100-per-year level had a chance to experience the event in Tampa.
Regardless of the ticket situation, Tampa offers some things that simply haven't been available very often, in the entire 54-year history of the tournament. The expected high in Raleigh today is 57 degrees. That's the expected low in Tampa. It's a beautiful day (80 degrees and sunny, with a slight breeze) in this corner of the Gulf of Mexico. Two years ago, at the ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C., there were snowflakes in the air at times. <h2>FLORIDA PUSH CAME EARLY</H2> Many have portrayed this inaugural trip to the Sunshine State as a reaction to ACC expansion, but that's true only if the reference is to the addition of Florida State in the early 1990s. Tampa's bid for the ACC Tournament gained approval from the league's athletic directors in 2000, long before the arrivals of Boston College and Miami in the conference's most recent round of expansion. FSU athletic director Dave Hart was the driving force behind the move to Florida, a major change for a conference that has held 45 of its first 53 tournaments in North Carolina. Upon Hart's first suggestion of the idea, he was voted down 8-1. Gradually, he gained the support of ACC commissioner John Swofford, former Georgia Tech athletic director Dave Braine, Maryland AD Debbie Yow and others.
Whether you're looking to hand out credit or blame, here's the list of the ACC's nine athletic directors at the time of the Tampa decision: Braine, Hart, Yow, Joe Alleva (Duke), Dick Baddour (North Carolina), Terry Holland (Virginia), Les Robinson (N.C. State), Bobby Robinson (Clemson) and Ron Wellman (Wake Forest). Braine, Holland, Robinson and Robinson since have moved on from their ACC posts.
It's easy to see why the NFL (three Super Bowls), the NCAA (1999 Final Four) and other organizations have entrusted so many big-time sporting events to the Tampa Bay area. In this case, the St. Pete Times Forum is only about a seven-mile trip (or a $22 cab ride) from the Tampa airport, and numerous quality hotels are within easy walking distance of the arena. The beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, along with plenty of shops and restaurants, are merely a few steps away. At other venues, including Charlotte and Greensboro, the media and many fans faced 10-minute shuttle rides between their hotels and the tournament sites. In Tampa, one media hotel is right across the street from the St. Pete Times Forum, and the other is a pleasant, eight-block walk from the arena.
The largest local newspapers (St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Tribune) in the area deserve a lot of credit for their extensive coverage of the tournament, but here's something that would never happen in Charlotte or Greensboro. In the second sentence of an article that appeared in the Sports section, Tribune columnist Joe Henderson made a reference this morning to Virginia Tech University. In all likelihood, that ugly error slipped past a few editors, in addition to the writer himself, in the journalistic equivalent of Dan Quayle misspelling potato for an elementary school class. Ouch!
NOTE: ACCSports.com readers can e-mail David Glenn on press row at the St. Pete Times Forum all weekend long. He will answer many of your questions here in this forum during the course of the tournament. In most cases, he will not be able to respond directly to individual e-mails.
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