Opening paragraphs of an article in today's Wall Street Journal titled "Where Have All the Fans Gone?":
It was the kind of college-basketball game that used to guarantee a packed house.
When North Carolina took the court to play Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., one night last month, it marked the reunion of two storied conference rivals whose campuses are separated by a short drive across the spine of a basketball-crazy state.
Yet when the No. 5 Tar Heels arrived, they found a crowd nearly 2,000 short of capacity. Never mind that Wake is having an off year; it was the lowest turnout for that matchup since Joel Coliseum opened in 1989.
It would be easy to blame the low attendance on Wake's horrific teams these last couple of years, but I think anyone from these parts who was being honest would tell you that in years past a UNC trip to Winston-Salem to scrimmage a high school team would have sold out the Joel.
The article goes on to posit several possible reasons for the ACC's attendance decline: conference expansion which has diluted traditional rivalries, mediocre teams, low-profile coaches, a "charisma deficit" and the proliferation of cheap HD TVs that make the at-home viewing experience better than ever before. I'd say all of those factors have contributed to the conference's current malaise, but whatever the reasons I'd say ACC basketball seems to have jumped the shark, at least for now.
Dan Collins shares a great plan to help the ACC restore some of its historic luster:
But there’s still a way to retain the rivalries that have made the league what it is—or at least what it was before expansion. I wish I could say the idea was mine, but really I stole it from my buddy Al Featherston, the long-time ACC writer and historian. Like is said in songwriter circles: amateurs borrow, but professionals steal. Featherston’s proposal is to divide the conference into seven-team divisions, as is done for football. That would allow at least most of the rivalries to remain intact.
Each team would play teams in its division twice, of course, for a total of 12 games. And each would play the teams in the other divisions once, for seven more games. That’s 19 games, if my public school education hasn’t failed me.
The one flaw in the system could become its biggest selling point. The seven games against the other division would leave some teams with 10 home conference games and others with only nine. That is, unless one of the games against the other division was played at a neutral site.
So the way to make it all work for everybody—the fans, the media, the league and of course the television networks—would be to set aside a long weekend between mid-December and Christmas when all 14 ACC teams would congregate at a neutral site. One year it could be Greensboro, the next Atlanta, the next Charlotte, and the next Madison Square Garden. And over those three days the odd game against the other division could be played. It could be marketed and sold as an Early Bird Special of what fans can expect to see over the next 2 1/2 months and it would build up tremendous energy and enthusiasm at a time of the year any league—even the ACC—could use all it could get.
Dan Collins uses a little blog space to look at how Wake Forest is doing at the halfway point of the ACC conference schedule. His tool to measure them is the ACC Stats page and I agree with his assessment:
This is not a pretty team. Teams that miss a bunch of shots and turn the ball over rarely look good, at least not until the game is over.
But defense and rebounding statistics reveal effort. And it’s hard to argue that any team in the ACC has given more effort so far this season than Wake Forest.
Dan doesn't dig into the other ACC teams, but after watching UNC the last couple of weeks I'll offer one observation that I think the stats clearly back up: right now the young Tarheels can't guard their own shadows. That's not really shocking given their relative youth (most young college players don't defend well), but they better learn how to defend soon or it won't just be a long season, it will be a long couple of seasons.