The Chansky Plan

Well, timing is everything.

Just last week, I explained the ACC’s current 16-game basketball schedule to those who don’t know, or care, how it works. Thought my breakdown of the two permanent partners, three-year rotation of three temporary partners and the one-at-home, one-on-the-road format was pretty clear. Didn’t you?

So what happens? Even though the ACC does not know when Pitt and Syracuse are joining the league, the brain trust in Greensboro has already come up with the new formula – or at least part of it. Only one permanent partner remains, such as Duke and UNC, which will play home-and-home every year.

The other 12 teams will pair up for their new permanent partner that, I assure you, will have no rhyme or reason behind each mating. No wonder the great experiment to expand the ACC for football reasons has ruined a bunch of old rivalries and left the league slightly ahead of the beleaguered Big East among the so-called BCS conferences.

So, before it’s too late, here is the Chansky Plan for basketball realignment (they could use it in football, too).

Two seven-school divisions.

In the North would be, voila, the northern schools: Syracuse, Pitt, Boston College, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland AND Duke, because all the Dukies are from New Jersey anyway.

The South Division would have the remaining Big Three schools from North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami.

The schools would play everyone in their own division home and home for 12 games and have their permanent partner come from the other division (+2 games), which leaves a neat six teams remaining to play three at home and three on the road each season. That, of course, adds up to a 20-game conference schedule. The great sadness in such a move would be the dropping of two November-December cupcake opponents that should never be scheduled and result in blow-out games and blow-off crowds. Goodbye, Nichols State and Presbyterian. Boo-hoo.

The two divisions would also represent the upper and lower brackets in the ACC Tournament, and the worst a coach can say about his team in a recruit’s home is “we finished seventh in the ACC North (or South) but you can help us improve on that.” A lot better than trying to explain why you finished 13th or 14th in the overall conference.

The plan would have Carolina, State and Wake Forest playing each other home and away each season, since they would be in the same division. Duke doesn’t care about playing any of the other Big Four schools twice beyond UNC because the Blue Devils have become a “national program.”

So, besides Duke and Carolina, how would the remaining 12 schools pick their permanent partners from the other division? Here’s my idea.

Syracuse and Pitt would get Florida State and Miami, respectively, so the players and coaches from those two dreary winter cities would be assured of seeing some sunshine at least once during the season.

The two colleges – BC and “State College” – sound like a good match. Same for the two “Techies” – from Virginia and Georgia.

Likewise for the two egghead schools, Virginia and Wake Forest, one founded in Charlottesville by slave owner and tobacco farmer Thomas Jefferson and the other moved to Winston-Salem from north of Raleigh through a rather large grant from the R.J. Reynolds Foundation.

That leaves Maryland and Clemson, who can renew their un-Civil War from the old days when Lefty Driesell slept in his car while wooing recruits and Tates Locke just left bags of money on their kitchen tables. On the court, their teams talked trash and occasionally squared off.

Now that’s the ACC I remember, when the coaches were characters in plaid jackets who almost never made nice to each other and the kids came from all over the country to play on Tobacco Road.

We’ll never get back there because the TV networks want so many intersectional games to collect maximum eyeballs. But at least with two permanent partners that never rotate and home-and-home series with existing geographic if not natural rivals, the ACC will still play enough games across divisions while regaining some semblance of a cohesive conference.

Write to your commissioner today while there is still time to adopt my plan!

My coach did not spit on anybody's hand

It is too bad that sports reporters and historians at Atlantic Coast Conference headquarters are not reading “ACC Basketball.” This UNC Press book by Sam Walker was published last year and chronicles the game during the conference’s first 20 years.

On the other hand, maybe it is a good thing for my old basketball coach, Lefty Driesell.

How do I know sports reporters and ACC staffers are not reading the new book? It came out in the controversy that developed about UNC Coach Roy Williams taking most of his players off the court 14 seconds before the game ended in Carolina’s recent loss to Florida State.

Williams thought the game was ending early. One story line in the following days was about other times that ACC basketball games ended early.

After checking with an ACC staffer, the Raleigh News & Observer reported, “As best as anyone can tell, UNC’s loss at Florida State would have been just the second ACC game to end before time expired. The first time it happened – and apparently the only time – came in Maryland’s 60-55 home victory against N.C. State on Jan. 7, 1967.”

If the ACC and N&O had read “ACC Basketball,” they would have found, on page 2, Sam Walker’s description of another early game ending when Maryland played South Carolina in Columbia. “On December 16, 1970, South Carolina was cruising to an easy victory when, with 4:52 remaining in the game, two players got into a shoving and elbow-throwing skirmish. Both benches rushed to the aid of their teammates, and a slugfest broke out. As Driesell tried to separate players and stop the melee, he was struck twice by South Carolina forward John Ribock. The fracas continued for about four minutes before police managed to halt the fighting and the referees decided to end the game.”

That story of another early ending is not the “good thing” for Coach Driesell.

When I read and enjoyed “ACC Basketball” I asked UNC Press to send him a copy, thinking he would enjoy some of the stories about him.

I was wrong. Driesell called me the day after he got the book. “I’m going to sue them,” he said. He pointed to a paragraph in the book about the recruitment of basketball star Charlie Scott in 1966. Scott was headed to Davidson, where Driesell was coaching, until Coach Dean Smith persuaded him to go to Carolina. It said that when Smith and Driesell met afterwards, “Smith offered his hand to Driesell and said something along the lines of ‘no hard feelings.’ A fuming Driesell indicated that there were indeed some hard feelings by spitting on Smith’s outstretched palm.”

Driesell was livid. “I would never spit on anybody’s hand. That is terrible.”

He was worried about his friends’ reactions and especially about what “Dean’s family would think.”

Thanks to ECU athletic director, and Driesell’s assistant coach at the time, Terry Holland, the book’s version was corrected. Holland told Walker and UNC Press that “I was standing right beside Coach Driesell and can guarantee that there was no ‘spitting’ involved.”

As a result, the new printing of “ACC Basketball” revises its report to say simply, “Driesell looked down at Smith’s hand and shook his head to indicate that he was not ready to concede defeat.”

So the good thing for Driesell about reporters not reading “ACC Basketball” yet, is that when they do, he can hope they will read the revised version and not see a word about spitting.

“But what about people who read the earlier version?” Driesell asked me.

“All I can do,” I told him, “is write a column that says you didn’t spit in anybody’s hand, and my readers will know the truth.”

The ACC's first 20 years

 Just as the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) is poised to expand again, North Carolina’s basketball victory over South Carolina in Las Vegas last week brought back memories.

They are memories of a time when the ACC was young and South Carolina was part of the small family. Well, sort of.

That “sort of” story is just part of “ACC Basketball: The Story of the Rivalries, Traditions, and Scandals of the First Two Decades of the Atlantic Coast Conference,” a new book by Sam Walker.

During most of those first 20 years, South Carolina, a founding member of the conference, was part of a family that stayed together, even if not altogether happily.

Those first years took the ACC to the top as a basketball conference, a position it still holds.

The book opens with a description of the first ACC conference basketball game. On December 2, 1953, Maryland played South Carolina in Columbia before about 3,000 fans. If you do not remember who won, you are not alone. The next day, the newspapers in Washington and in Columbia gave only short reports that few people noticed. (Maryland won, 53-49.)

Not much attention. Not much respect.

Walker compares that debut game to a meeting between the same two teams in 1971, when 14,000 fans crowded Maryland’s Cole Field House to see Lefty Driesell’s young Maryland team upset Frank McGuire’s second-in-the-nation-ranked South Carolina team in overtime, 31-30. 

McGuire and Driesell turn out to be major characters in a major-character-filled book about sports, higher education, and American cultural change.

Earlier in the 1970-71 season, a game between the two teams in Columbia had to be ended with 4:52 remaining on the clock. A brawl broke out, and one of the South Carolina players struck Driesell twice in the face.

McGuire and Driesell exchanged unpleasant comments in the press, Driesell accusing “McGuire of smiling while ‘they were going wild out there,’” adding “‘if I was Frank McGuire, I would not bring my team to College Park.’”

McGuire responded, “I don’t care what Lefty has to say. There are a million Lefty Driesells in the world.…You won’t see the day I’m afraid of him.”

McGuire might not have been afraid, but he wore a bulletproof vest to the game in College Park.

By 1971, it did not take a McGuire-Driesell rivalry for ACC basketball games to be the lead stories on the sports pages. By then ACC basketball games were big-time sports stories all winter long.

The 1953 and 1971 Maryland-South Carolina games are bookends for more than 300 pages of ACC history.

Coincidentally, two months after the 1971 game, on March 29, 1971, South Carolina’s trustees voted to resign from the ACC. Their reasons had more to do with the conference’s academic standards for football recruits than McGuire’s various feuds with conference officials.

Walker writes about other colorful coaches, like Everett Case, Press Maravich, and Bones McKinney. And he writes about the not-so-colorful one who probably made the greatest positive impact on the ACC during that time, Dean Smith.

Attendance and public attention were not the only differences between the 1953 and 1971 games. In 1953, there were no black players in the ACC. At the game in 1971, Maryland had black players and a black assistant coach. Today, it is hard to believe it could be any other way.

 “How many more ACC basketball books can there be?” my wife asked me. “Think about Civil War books,” I told her, trying to say that there would be plenty more. But this “ACC Basketball” book, written by a prize winning historian and published by a university press (UNC Press) sets it apart and makes it a must-have reference for students of the game and the times.