The Atlantic Coast Conference was formed in 1953 when seven teams left the 17-member Southern Conference. The original members were: Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina State, South Carolina and Wake Forest, with Virginia close behind them.

Like its parent conference, the ACC holds a tournament to decide the conference championship and, until recently, only the winner went to the NCAA tournament, which decides the national title.

For years, many felt that this procedure put the ACC teams at a disadvantage because the best team might get knocked off in the conference meet, as South Carolina did in 1970. Two years after that disappointment, South Carolina left the ACC; it was replaced in 1978 by Georgia Tech.

The tournament also left the winner physically and emotionally exhausted -- in a hole when playing champions from other conferences that didn't hold tournaments.

Still, in 1974, N.C. State won the national championship after taking the ACC title in a final, overtime game against Maryland -- one of the finest college-basketball games ever played.

Today, the tournament determines favored seeding rather than the only bid. Last year, the ACC sent four teams to the NCAA tourney, and North Carolina brought back the national title, narrowly beating Georgetown.

The tournament has become both a sports and a social occasion for ACC fans. "Most people who attend come prepared to stay the weekend no matter how their team fares," the ACC's Skeeter Francis says.

"If they leave, they usually find some informal way of passing on tickets."

Francis says the ACC offered to buy back losers' tickets in 1968 so they could be resold to the fans of the final two teams. The league got 38 tickets back. "After that," Francis said, "we just decided to leave it alone."

This year, each school was alloted 1,900 tickets.

The North Carolina Tar Heels, who will be at least an even favorite to win the 1983 tournament, have won it 10 times. Virginia's Cavaliers, the other even favorite, has won once, as has Maryland. But then, upsets are a tournament tradition.

Another ACC tradition is to support the winner when it goes on to the NCAA: "It's a very competitive conference," Ken Haines says, "but once a particular school follows into non-conference play, all the others will support them. They will even chant ACC. Now that's a conference."