Sentimental Value: On the Notion of an ACC Regular Season CrownPosted by Christopher Kehoe on March 14th, 2014
Since many of the ACC’s founding members sprang from what was known as the ‘Southern Conference’ in 1953, the ACC adopted many of the SoCon’s mannerisms and bylaws. The Southern Conference traditionally anointed a champion via their postseason tournament and out of that came their postseason automatic bid. Ever since the ACC formalized the wording of a similarly fateful decision in 1961, the ACC regular season title has been all but a formality. The idea behind awarding a postseason victor in a short and somewhat chaotic multi-day tournament setting was to provide a free-for-all environment that was both entertaining and unpredictable. This ACC Tournament gave lower seeded teams who had a less successful regular season a chance at making The Big Dance. And back in the day and age where these rules were first enacted, only 15 teams were awarded chances at the NCAA Tournament, making a bid all that more valuable and cherished.
In a format where games are played on top of each other with little or no rest or time to prepare, less superior teams would essentially be able to pull a win out regardless of their records. But while all the other major conferences today at least recognize officially the regular season champion, why has the ACC lagged behind is perplexing to say the least. The ACC finally began paying homage to the regular season winners in 1990, and retroactively recognized the winners from 1954-1989 in that same year. But why it took them so long, and why more conferences do not go along with the Ivy League method of a regular season champion is beyond me. ESPN‘s entrance into the foray and emphasis placed on Championship Week may have something to do with it, glamorizing the end of season postseason tournaments as bubble bursting madness.
While the merits of a regular season title resulting in the auto bid can be argued, what is hard to fathom is the sheer disregard and overlooking of the merits of officially touting a regular season champion. Through the long grind of an ACC regular season, a team’s flaws and strengths are clearly exposed versus conference rivals over a long period. Teams must weather ups and downs, injuries, cold spurts, and various systems and defenses thrown at them. The ACC regular champion is a true champion, one of great endurance and consistency, both of which this year’s Virginia team has in spades. But while certain people may question the legitimacy or worthiness of hanging a ‘mythical banner’, what cannot be disputed is Virginia’s record amount of conference wins. While this particular ACC rule does not prohibit teams from hanging regular season championship banners in their arenas, there must be a clear distinction from regular season and ACC Tournament on their banners. Two of the ACC’s most prominent programs, North Carolina and Duke, have taken it upon themselves to just print “ACC Champions” in monstrous type compared to the following distinction of when it was earned. But while Coach K has chosen to focus on the ACC Tournament for his Duke teams, winning 10 of the last 15, Roy Williams has always focused on the regular season, and both programs have been successful in the NCAA Tournament over the last decade. So while some may choose to game the current ACC bylaws to their advantage, other rival ACC schools ignore them and focus on the long haul and are largely successful regardless.
With 15 programs in today’s ACC, it is clear that bylaws created over five decades ago are out of date. With Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame entering this season and Louisville following in 2014-15, the ACC could utilize the introduction of new conference teams to simultaneously introduce some alterations to conference rules. Because fact of the matter will be, winning the ACC regular season title will be even more of an achievement with teams like Louisville and Syracuse entering the fray to battle it out over an arduous conference schedule slate. Unbalanced schedule or not, winning the regular season title is quite an achievement and there should absolutely be some official recognition for it. And after that we can get to work on fixing the unbalanced schedules.