As a child of New York City during the 1960s, Jim Larranaga gazed south and thought ACC basketball the nation’s best. As a Virginia assistant coach during the 1980s, he saw the likes of Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson, Len Bias, Hawkeye Whitney and Mark Price. As Miami’s second-year head coach, he now guides the league’s first-place team.
And he absolutely wants his conference to take its tournament to his hometown.
The possibility emerged last week during the ACC’s winter meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
But as ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy first reported and sources later confirmed, the ACC wants to also consider two New York arenas, the venerable Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Neither building bid on the ACC tournament before last year’s deadline, and neither has since. But the ACC would welcome late entries to the race.
Last week’s ACC-New York discussions were more conceptual than detailed, but that doesn’t dampen Larranaga’s enthusiasm.
“If we go to Madison Square Garden, it will be the greatest exposure we’ve ever gotten as a league in the New York metropolitan area, where the recruiting ground is very fertile,” he told me Friday. “Playing in the Mecca of college basketball, Madison Square Garden, is a thrill for every college player.”
Larranaga, whose Hurricanes are 18-3, 9-0 ACC, knows. As a player at Providence, he competed in the 1968 Holiday Festival at the Garden against No. 1 UCLA and Holy Cross.
“And the fans will absolutely love a long weekend in New York, where you can go to a basketball game in the afternoon and a Broadway show at night,” Larranaga continued. “Or, if your team is playing at night, you can go shopping in the afternoon.
“There’s just so much to do in New York City that I think our fans from all over, not just the Syracuses and Notre Dames who have been in the Big East and playing there, … would thoroughly enjoy going to Manhattan for a four- or five-day trip.”
The tournament’s northern-most outpost was Landover, Md., and the late, once-great Capital Centre. Virginia won its lone championship there in 1976, followed by North Carolina in 1981 and North Carolina State in 1987. Washington’s Verizon Center hosted in 2005.
“With more Northeast schools, I’m sure that’s something that needs to be looked at,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said of New York. “You always think of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, but this isn’t the old ACC.”
No doubt, and it’s not just the Northeast schools. Notre Dame has long enjoyed considerable New York support, while ACC staples such as Virginia, Duke and North Carolina have sizable alumni groups in the region.
The Big East has staged its tournament at Madison Square Garden since 1983 and last year extended that partnership through 2026. But with the so-called Catholic 7 — Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette and Villanova — exiting the Big East, most likely after next season, will that arrangement hold?
A future Big East with the likes of Cincinnati, Temple, South Florida, Connecticut, Central Florida, Houston, Tulane, Memphis and Southern Methodist might not be appealing to the Garden. Though the Catholic 7 might.
Meanwhile, the Barclays Center is booked through 2017 with the Newport News-based Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
“The major media markets like NYC, Wash DC, ATL have to be on the table,” Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said via email. “All of our schools have a good alumni presence in metro NY, and the city itself generates so much enthusiasm. … A lot more study needs to go into the tournament future site discussion.”
Atlanta (8), Washington (9) and Tampa-St. Petersburg (14) were the largest media markets to bid, and all made the cut. New York is No. 1.
The ACC is losing its primary D.C. presence with Maryland moving to the Big Ten, but again, many conference schools, Virginia and Virginia Tech particularly, have considerable alumni bases in the region.
Greensboro, home to the conference office and central to the league’s four North Carolina schools, is the tournament’s most frequent home. But the city can not match the centralized lodging and entertainment offered in downtowns such as Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte and New York.
That said, led by New York, those destinations are far pricier and would preclude some from attending.
Commissioner John Swofford last publicly addressed future tournament sites in October at the ACC’s preseason media gathering in Charlotte.
“My guess is in listening to the athletic directors (that) the next eight or 10 years will probably look somewhat similar to the past decade in which we had the tournament in North Carolina as its home base, in Greensboro and Charlotte, and bounced it out periodically to other parts of our footprint,” he said. “We’ve got some attractive opportunities.”
Including, perhaps, the occasional visit to New York.
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