New ACC sites may be in sight

Shift from N. Carolina urged as `equity issue'


COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams beat the rush this college basketball season.

He began to complain in December about the location of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

The 47th ACC tournament begins today at the Charlotte Coliseum, and it is the 41st time it will be conducted in the state of North Carolina. It will be Williams' 14th tournament, and all have been in North Carolina. He faced N.C. State at the Wolfpack's Reynolds Coliseum as a Terps player in 1965, and as a coach has vainly tried to take down the Tar Heels in Charlotte, their home away from home.

"It seems that each round you go, more and more blue shows up in the stands," said Williams, alluding to the colors of Duke and North Carolina. "With five teams from outside the state of North Carolina I hope that it comes up here in the near future, while I'm still coaching. Our fans deserve it. They shouldn't have to go down there every year."

A bit of relief will come next year, when the tournament shifts to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, its first foray outside North Carolina since 1989. Maryland's Debbie Yow is among the athletic directors who will lobby to have additional alternatives considered this May, when the ACC chooses sites for the 2005-2008 tournaments.

Yow said that MCI Center in Washington will be among the venues considered.

"The out- of- [North Carolina]-state ADs have become very vocal about their desire to see the tournament move out of North Carolina occasionally," Yow said. "I've been pitching it for years. This is a fairness and equity issue."

Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski didn't need any help constructing their empires at North Carolina and Duke, respectively, but coaches and fans from outside North Carolina wonder if the four teams from that state would have become so dominant -- 39 tournament titles in 46 years -- without friendly surroundings.

Wake Forest coach Dave Odom and N.C. State's Herb Sendek scoff at the notion that a tournament in Charlotte or Greensboro gives their state's teams an advantage over outsiders, but Florida State's Steve Robinson said, "When you play a team from the state of North Carolina, I'm not so sure it's a neutral court."

Odom and Sendek cited the equal distribution of tickets as a safeguard, but the split allegiance in the stands is shot once teams lose. When Virginia failed to get to the semifinals the past three years, who was more likely to purchase tickets being unloaded by Cavaliers fans: someone from Dundalk, or Durham?

The issue of tickets could be the major stumbling block confronting possible bids by MCI Center and the Ice Palace in Tampa, Fla.

Fred Barakat, the associate commissioner who runs the ACC tournament, said that the Georgia Dome can be configured for anywhere from 26,000 to 34,000 seats next year. The capacity in Charlotte last year was 23,895, which gave each of the ACC's nine schools 2,500 tickets to distribute to their boosters.

The capacity for Wizards games is 20,674 at MCI Center, and Barakat said that the Ice Palace seats about 21,000 for basketball. With media cutting into seating and the possibility that luxury suites could do the same, schools would have fewer tickets at their disposal -- possibly below 2,000 apiece -- if the ACC chose Washington or Tampa.

"More than anything else, the size of the arena and our institutions' ability to digest fewer tickets is the key issue," said John Swofford, commissioner of the ACC. "Obviously, having it in Washington, D.C., would be a terrific thing, if we can deal with the arena size."

Athletic directors are probably not averse to bidding wars among their boosters, who might have to make bigger donations to keep their tournament tickets. In Yow's case, she sees a smaller ticket allocation as an acceptable trade-off, as long as it gets the tournament out of North Carolina occasionally.

"The athletic directors get lobbied by their development directors," Yow said. "The prevailing feedback is, `Don't do this. We have to have those 500 tickets.' We feel strongly about this, however. We obviously feel we have a better opportunity to win the ACC tournament if it's in the MCI Center."

Yow said that the ACC's athletic directors toured MCI Center in November 1998. The Terps are one of the de facto host teams in the BB&T Classic held every December at the arena, which Abe Pollin built as a replacement to USAir Arena in Landover, the site of ACC tournament in 1976, '81 and '87, when it was known as Capital Centre.

Maryland lost the 1981 final to North Carolina, but the tournament's last visit to their back yard in 1987 was an artistic flop for the Terps. Less than a year after the death of Len Bias rocked the university, let alone the basketball program, a Maryland team that went winless in the conference fell to the Tar Heels by 19 in the quarterfinals at Capital Centre.

It probably does not hurt Washington's chances that Michael Jordan, North Carolina's favorite son, is part-owner of the Wizards and their director of basketball operations.

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