Until at least Fall 2013, the Atlantic Coast Conference won’t include any members from landlocked states.
Before more variables are introduced, let’s rank the best (and the worst) of the ACC’s road venues.
In full disclosure, I’ve only experienced these seven schools as a traveling student-athlete; this is an assessment of each town’s overall college environment, not necessarily just the basketball or football stadiums of each university. Furthermore, these are the only seven I’ve been to. (Apologies to the fine folks of Tallahassee, Atlanta, College Park and Winston Salem) Though I might not be able to give you any advice on road trips to any of the “Artists formerly known as the Big East”, I’ve got some pointers on how to have a good – and horrible – time up and down the coast.
#7: NC STATE
Town: Raleigh, NC
Before you jump all over me, pups, I’d like to preface this ranking with the disclaimer that I have high praise for many of Raleigh’s attractions, chief among them a certain Laser Tag/ Mini Golf attraction called “Adventure Landing.” State has top-notch athletic facilities in Carter Finley and PNC Arena, access to a Cookout, and plenty of parking. The problem isn’t what the town does or doesn’t have – the problem is where everything is.
To get anywhere at State, it seems you have to hit another I-40 exit. Students without cars have to bus to their off-campus football and basketball stadiums, and while all the space proved convenient for my moonlighting as a human snitch for State’s Quidditch tournaments, it’s a complete task getting anywhere on time as a pedestrian. What’s more, the aesthetics get old fast. I’m not sure even Scott Wood could lay more bricks in a Carolina game.
#6: VIRGINIA TECH
Town: Blacksburg, VA
The snow. Somehow these Hokies get feet of it every year. Just be warned – this can be a blessing or a curse. In 2010, as UNC’s basketball team was limping to an NIT berth, our track team had the misfortune of rolling into town just 24 hours after our hardwood Heels had thrown the game away in Blacksburg. Easily identifiable in our powder-blue sweats, we were pelted unrelentingly with snowballs by a few undergrads.
“Heels,” they’d yell. “Your basketball team sucks!”
“Can’t argue with you,” we’d yell back.
The next year, I had the pleasure of watching members of the Duke team subjected to the same abuse – so worth it.
Don’t let the cold Blacksburg weather fool you, though. Hokies are one of- if not the most, warm, sportsmanlike fan bases known to NCAA sports.
This campus is essentially an even grayer architectural version of Duke’s neo-gothica sprawl. While the dining halls are national award-winners, there are practically no “Franklin Street” alternatives for food or entertainment.
Town: Durham, NC
Perpetuate what stereotypes you want about Durham, but this city is not what it was even five years ago. Ninth Street has always had record stores, book shops and restaurants to match any campus “Main Street”, but now downtown is renovated, vibrant, and downright quaint. Chic restaurants and boutiques grow in the very shadow of the old smokestacks and fires of industry. It’s almost to the point that Duke won’t need that protective, 3-foot stone wall to keep those poor New Jersey kids safe.
If you’re drawn to tradition, prestige, and other bourgeois affectations, this campus is a real treat. If you’re put off by the prospect of watching a modern football or basketball game in an over/under-sized, 70’s-era venue, don’t make the trip. In Cameron, the likelihood of you being drooled on by proximity is inversely proportional to the probability you could spit in Wallace Wade and hit anyone.
Town: Clemson, SC
This town has it all – great busing, incredible dining, dream weather, and a sparkling set of athletic facilities right in the middle of campus. This is small-town Americana at its finest.
Short and sweet, there’s not much else to do here. Also, I’ve learned the hard way that the mosquitoes have a particular taste for out-of-towners.
#3: BOSTON COLLEGE
Town: Chestnut Hill, MA
While I briefly saw the campus as a football recruit in high school (before shipping to the other side of town to visit Harvard), I can safely say that this university retains its persona and charm while not secluding itself from Boston’s urban sprawl. Think “Harry Potter” meets “Fever Pitch”. The Conte Forum (basketball) and Alumni Stadium (football) are completely obsolete, but like any gruff Bostonian, they’ll affably win you over.
Boston will probably continue to have the poorest weather of any ACC location until Syracuse comes into the picture.
Town: Charlottesville, VA
I’ve been to UVA for football combines and ACC track championships many times, and each time this town seems more and more like a more historical version of Chapel Hill. Everyone knows Jefferson’s architecture is plastered all over town, but every time you make this trip north you’ll find some new colonial-era gem you had previously missed.
The blocks between Main Street, Ridge McIntire road and East Market Street have a worlds better bar and restaurant selection than the Franklin – Rosemary swath we’ve come to accept as God’s gift to earth, and the campus itself looks downright regal. Even their athletic facilities, while slightly undersized compared to other ACC venues, pull off the “Jeffersonian” look.
The Wahoos – I still don’t know what that means – aren’t the most hospitable, down-to-earth crowd.
Town: Coral Gables, FLA
Will Smith describes this magical place so much better than I. Still, I’ll give it a shot. This campus is essentially a tropical-themed Disney resort if you don’t look carefully enough.
Where UNC has a Walgreens, Miami has a shopping mall.
Where we have the Davie Poplar family, they have palm trees.
Where Chapel Hill has a busing system, Coral Gables sits on a monorail line.
Where our campus has Polk Place, theirs has a lake big enough to go jet-skiing.
Even the Hurricane-proof, jail-slit, stucco-roofed dorms play into the beach theme. Their swim team practices in an outdoor facility that looks like it’s something straight out of Baywatch, but I digress.
After failing to make the finals in my track events in 2009, I (along with two other individuals who are – per usual – protected under anonymity) set out for South Beach. If you don’t do anything else in Miami, go swim. There’s nothing like a beach with water so clear you can see your feet waist-deep.
Don’t plan on getting any work done. At all.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @JT_Gerlach.