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Let’s face it, the ACC isn’t what it’s supposed to be

Jan 26, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT

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Last night the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils took on the Maryland Terrapins, and the nostalgia sparks were flying throughout the Comcast Center.

Not only did it provide flashbacks to one of the fiercest and most underappreciated college rivalries that has since severely tempered itself, a former integral character was honored at halftime to remind us all of how great these matchups once were.

Unless you’re delusional as to the dilution this conference has seen in recent years, then you’ll agree that the ACC is not once what it once was.  Depending on your age, it’s either not the ACC you grew up on or not the ACC you introduced to your kids.

You may even be too young to know how top-to-bottom great the league used to be.

When I was growing up in the late ’90s and early aughts the league was at its prime and Duke was my team. I was one of those fans who had zero affiliation to the school, but was a causality of the overexposure the Blue Devils received from the media. Despite my fandom, I really appreciated and enjoyed the league as a whole.  It looked the best on television and didn’t play second fiddle to its football brethren.

I remember in the weeks leading up to John Feinstein’s March to Madness hardcover release I did a few more rounds of dishes to earn extra allowance money. Two weeks later, I knew every head coach’s and assistant coach’s name. Dave Odom, now a complete afterthought, was like a quasi-superstar to me.   Now, I think that Jeff Bzdelik mans the Wake Forest sidelines.

Today the league somehow manages to get labeled as both top heavy and full of parity.  The Blue Devils and North Carolina have won or shared the last eight league titles with minimal competition. During this span, the aforementioned Terrapins have simply struggled to keep up, North Carolina State hasn’t been able to consistently recruit elite high school talent,  Virginia Tech began building a new part of their campus on The Bubble, and Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have become a collection of anonymous athletes.

Florida State, many congratulations are in order for them, but as fantastic as their recent play has been, it  just makes the conference even more confusing. Now the Heels, once National Championship favorites, have major question marks, and Duke just doesn’t have the look of a premier team.

The go-to counter argument here is that top heavy and parity in the ACC is a great year in, oh, the Mountain West. But for the past season and a half the ACC has actually found themselves ranked behind the MWC in conference RPI rankings.  They’ve also taken an inordinate amount of non-conference losses on the chin this season, which is part of an two-year low in wins out of conference since before 1980.

They’ve also lost that dang Big 10 – ACC Challenge the past three years!

Hasn’t a higher level of precedent been set for this “basketball first” BCS conference?

Within the league, yeah, Duke and UNC have almost always been the two most feared predators, but every other team seemed to at least boast one or two scoring threats that could keep games interesting and gyms packed.  Now, famed student sections like the Cameron Crazies are showing up at a decreasing rate year-over-year.  Something about camping out to see your school play middling Clemson on a Sunday night just doesn’t sound appealing.

You can say there is not enough fact to back up the claim this league is not what it once was, but to a man we know that the ACC simply felt different years ago. It provided excitement that generated chatter in school hallways and workplace water coolers every winter morning.

A lot of people used to want to talk about the ACC. Now we just talk about what it used to be.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

  1. wlschneider09 - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Um, make that three straight for the Big Ten in the BT-ACC challenge.

  2. GoalieLax - Jan 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Tell me again which conferences have more ranked teams than the ACC does right now? Only one you say? Huh…

  3. duvisited - Jan 26, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    Whatever you do, pay no attention to the fact that the Big East is so far down that South Florida is in contention for second place.

  4. J. Curle - Jan 26, 2012 at 1:36 PM

    What’s funny is that Nick’s version of the ACC, that he fondly remembers as being dominant, is nothing like the ACC that *I* fondly remember from the mid 80s. There wasn’t just parity: it was a murderers row of GREAT teams that other conferences feared.

    Consider that at one point in time during the 80s, the ACC had the following coaches all coaching in the league concurrently:

    Dean Smith
    Jim Valvano
    Mike K.
    Bobby Cremins
    Terry Holland
    Lefty Diesell
    Cliff Ellis

    That’s 7 of the 8 coaches in the league, all great coaches, all in their prime.

    So nice effort, Nick, but the ACC hasn’t always been the top-heavy league you recall as a child. It was even better.

    • imwhitewolf - Jan 26, 2012 at 2:17 PM

      J Curle,

      I’ve followed the ACC since the early 60s. I totally agree with your comment about how great the conference was in the 80s. The coaches were exceptional. In the early/mid 80s I lives in Winston-Salem and would sit on the heating vent al Saturday to watch ESPN. All they showed on Saturday was the ACC. I think the 70s were just a step behind. I do believe the conference has slipped and I date it to the introduction of Florida State, Miami, and Virgina Tech, primarily as football powers. The conference wanted to become a football powerhouse, which it has not. I think the addition of Pitt and Syracuse is a needed counterbalance to those football desires. It is sad to see the depths that Wake,Georgia Tech and NC St. have fallen to.

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