NEW YORK – The B train rolled out of Herald Square shortly after noon Friday. One OMG, five stops and 21 minutes later, I stood in front of Barclays Center, home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and site of the 2017 and ’18 ACC basketball tournaments.
Here covering Virginia in the NCAA East Regional at Madison Square Garden, I ventured to Barclays for two reasons: to see how accessible it is from Manhattan and to scout the neighborhood around the arena.
Trust me on this, ACC fans: Barring a construction boom in Brooklyn, or unless you plan to spend virtually every waking moment during the tournament inside Barclays, you’ll want to bunk in Manhattan.
Nothing against Brooklyn’s trendy neighborhoods, replete with coffee shops, pizza joints and retail outlets such as Target and Best Buy – the latter two the most prominent businesses near Barclays. But the area, once home to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Ebbets Field, lacks nearby hotels and high-end entertainment, dining and shopping.
In short, it ain’t Broadway.
And that’s why the ACC pines for Madison Square Garden. While it can’t match the amenities of Barclays, opened in 2012 to universal applause, and, according to the New York Times, home to a tattoo parlor, art gallery and gourmet grub, the Garden has unrivaled basketball, sporting and music history, not to mention the buzz of Manhattan.
You can’t count the hotels and dining options within a five-block radius of MSG. Weather permitting, Times Square and the West Village are easy strolls – I’ve made them many times, including Thursday night.
But the Garden has a long-term contract to host the Big East tournament, the annual dates of which conflict with the ACC’s. Anxious to land in New York since adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame as members this season, the ACC settled for Barclays in a deal that involves the Newport News-based Atlantic 10 Conference.
The A-10 took its tournament to Barclays in 2013, and the five-year arrangement extended through 2017. In exchange for the A-10 vacating a year early, the ACC agreed to a December interconference doubleheader against the A-10 in 2015, ’16 and ’17. Also, the A-10 tournament will return in Barclays in 2019-21.
The ACC’s two years in New York will be interesting and almost certainly will draw a different (read: wealthier) brand of spectators. Grassroots fans accustomed to Greensboro’s relatively tame room rates and small-town vibe will suffer sticker shock if they even consider venturing north.
But truth be told, they won’t be the target audience. The ACC tournament in New York will be more about corporate partners and well-heeled donors accustomed to $300 hotel rooms and $50 steaks – a la carte, of course. Those folks may be hesitant to venture underground and purchase a $2.75 one-way subway card, but if they can’t wrap their arms around that, they undoubtedly can afford the approximately $35 cab fare, or, a limo.
Figuring the Daily Press would blanch at $70 in cab fares, I opted for the subway, and other than the moment I feared I’d boarded the wrong train, it was all good. Eleven subway lines serve the Atlantic Avenue station, the steps of which rise directly to the arena box office.
Commissioner John Swofford ignited ACC-to-New York speculation more than two years ago when he mentioned bringing the tournament to the Garden during a media call announcing Syracuse and Pitt’s admission to the league. The chatter hasn’t quieted since, and indeed, given its expanded footprint, the league would have been foolish to ignore New York.
And it would be equally foolish to abandon its North Carolina roots. Hence, this week’s dual announcements.
Wednesday, Swofford appeared at Barclays to unveil that deal. One day later, he revealed that the 2019 and ’20 ACC tournaments will be played in Charlotte and Greensboro, respectively.
Charlotte’s downtown NBA arena is, like Madison Square Garden, an ideal venue, within walking distance or a convenient train ride from hotels and businesses. The tournament debuted there in 2008 and its return was inevitable.
Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the event 26 times, most recently this month. The building has aged well, arguably better than the surrounding neighborhood, but I’ve heard from many fans weary of the destination.
ACC coaches and administrators have long pushed for this, and Swofford and his top basketball deputy, Karl Hicks, delivered.
“Like a lot of people, I’ve watched ACC basketball in Greensboro, North Carolina, and that’s the heart and soul of it,” said Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, a Virginia native. “But I have also worked in the old Big East (at Cincinnati), and while the Barclays Center is not the Garden, it’s still New York City. …
“The student-athlete experience for our kids to be in New York is big, the media’s big. I just think there needs to be a balance of tradition and branching off into new markets. … I’m a little biased toward New York. I think it’s a big deal to play basketball on the biggest stage up there.”
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