The discussion, according to those in the room, was brief. The vote was emphatic: 9 to 0 against expansion.
“It might have been the only 9 to 0 vote we ever had in my 22 years,” former Maryland coach Gary Williams recalled recently, laughing at the memory. “Of course the commissioner and the presidents said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and did what they were planning to do. Our thoughts never left that room because they didn’t care.”
Almost eight years later, it looks as if they should have cared. Consider these names: Iona (which beat Maryland, easily), Wofford, Boston University, Holy Cross, Mercer, Coastal Carolina, Princeton, Harvard (twice) and Tulane. They all have wins over ACC teams this season.
This is the basketball conference in the country?
“One of the reasons I think we were all against the expansion is because we looked around and said, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’ ” North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said. “We were being told, ‘This will help you,’ and our attitude was, ‘Why do we need help?’ ”
At that moment in time, the conference had produced five national champions in the previous 15 seasons. In those same 15 years, four ACC schools had made 17 Final Four appearances (Duke 7, North Carolina 6, Maryland 2 and Georgia Tech 2.) Three other ACC schools — Florida State, Wake Forest and Virginia — had reached the Elite Eight during that time.
Since expansion, the ACC has made four Final Four appearances in seven seasons: North Carolina has three and Duke one. The Tar Heels have won two national titles and the Blue Devils one to keep the image of the league — at least at the top — afloat. What is far more troubling is what has happened to the other 10 schools: zero Elite Eight appearances since expansion, three trips to the Sweet 16 (one each by Boston College, Florida State and North Carolina State).
Last season, two teams other than Duke and North Carolina represented the ACC in the NCAA tournament: Florida State and Clemson, which only got in as one of the last four teams selected because of the tournament expanding to a 68-team field. By contrast, the Big East received 11 bids.
“That was a frustrating day,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford conceded on Friday. “It wasn’t a complete surprise but it was frustrating. There is no question that we need to rebuild the depth in our conference. It hasn’t been as good in the last few years as it has been historically. We have certain standards we expect to live up to as a league. But you are only as good as a whole as the individual teams are year in and year out.”
Translation: On a national level since expansion, the ACC has become, for all intents and purposes, a two-team league.
“What you did was you took what was the basketball league and sent a message that said: Now we’re trying to be a football league,” Gary Williams said. “Other leagues use that when they recruit against you: ‘Well, the ACC used to be a basketball-first league.’ And, because of the way things have gone and the way the league was marketed, a lot of players from, say, the West Coast, when they think ACC now, they think two schools: Duke and Carolina.”