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So Whatcha Want?

Got an interesting e-mail over the weekend from N.C. State alum Merry Ward (note the festive spelling; if only she married this guy), who objected to the merits of writing about teams winning the ACC regular season "championship," which I did a lot of as Virginia and Virginia Tech each looked like they would have a shot and then gave some part of it away this weekend. I'll yield now to Merry ...

"According to the bylaws of the ACC, "the winner [of the tournament] shall be the conference champion." There is no regular season champion in the ACC. As far as the ACC is concerned, the regular season determines seeding for the ACC tournament. UVA has only won one men's basketball championship (1976). Period. In its 53 year history, only 8 ACC champions have resided outside of the state of North Carolina (GT -3, MD - 3, SC-1, UVA-1). Within North Carolina, NC State - 10, Wake Forest- 4, Carolina - 15, and Duke - 16. The WP ongoing misunderstanding of the ACC goes way back."

I'll assume Merry meant something other than Washington Post when she wrote WP there, so as not to veer with a snide remark from the issue at hand. Which is: What's more important - winning the conference tournament or the regular season?

As Merry poins out, the ACC recognizes the tourney winner as its champion. Not all conferences work that way; the Big 12 champion is the regular season winner (but the automatic bid still goes to the tourney champ, of course). Dave Leitao has said winning the conference in the regular season is a more important feat, because you've proved your worth over two months and 16 games, not a four-day crapshoot. My guess is other coaches would agree with him.

The topic came up on many occassions with Cavaliers writers late in the season while dining on the media spread at John Paul Jones Arena. Daily Press Scribe Darryl Slater believed first place in the regular was pretty insignificant. His argument: Making the NCAA Tournament is the only thing that matters, and if you play in the ACC, finishing second, third or fourth will put you in, anyway, so what's the difference?

Most of the writers, myself included, disagreed. If you win the conference regular season, you get to put up a banner, and if that's all you get, than huzzah, anyway. What are you playing, coaching or cheering for other than to proclaim, "We won!"? It's an acheivement, which is why there were so many glum faces in the Tech locker room yesterday.

Question: What does everyone here (if anyone is left now that Steinberg is a father) think about the debate? If you can pick only one, would you rather win the ACC Tournament or finish first for the regular season? Best response wins a trip to Atlanta for the Final Four (tickets, airfare and hotel not included)!!!

Worst. Contest. Ever.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 5, 2007; 1:46 PM ET
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i'd go for the regular season champ. more games played means less chance of statistical oddity. Any team can get hot for 3 days, any team that is already in the NCAA tournament might want the extra rest of getting bounced out early. Regular season champ means the most (just like how the ACC was determined until they expanded with VT,UM & BC)

Posted by: chimprage | March 5, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

While the MSM does move and express its opinions with a bovine like herd mentality; the average cow is far too elegant an eater to be compared to the average reporter (print, television, radio, blogger, it doesn't matter) presented with free food and beverages.

A more appropriate satirical metaphor for that would be a pack of starved dogs suddenly coming upon a pile of raw meat, for once the meat is consumed they turn on themselves.

Posted by: Dave Richardson | March 5, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

"...If you can pick only one, would you rather win the ACC Tournament or finish first for the regular season...?"

As a long-time Maryland fan who has suffered so many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune over the course of thirtysomething years of disappointments in Greensboro (beginning with Kenny Dennard roll-blocking the legs out from under Buck Williams in 1980), I can say in all honesty that it felt better when the Terps beat Duke in overtime the finals of the 2004 ACC Tournament than it did when they won the NCAA championship in 2002.

Tournament vs. regular season? Not even a question.

Posted by: Mark in Hyattsville | March 5, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

As to the question at hand-while the regular season standings tell you more about the team what really matters is what gets in in the Dance, be it the regular season title or a conference tournament title. I'm sure every fall in all the schools that belong to a conference that's one of the goals Coach sets for the team-getting in the NCAA.

Posted by: Dave Richardson | March 5, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

All this talk about the ACC championship and no mention of the most important factor: unbalanced schedules. I think they make the ACC regular season championship pretty moot at this point. At least in the ACC tourney you've got to get through... at least commutatively... every team.

Back when it was 9 teams and you had to play every squad twice, I'd have said it was a bigger accomplishment. Since expansion, it's gotta be the tourney.

Posted by: MDT | March 5, 2007 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Today,the regular season.

But when the NCAA tournament had only 16 teams, the ACC tourney champ went, and all the others stayed home. This happened to Carolina on more than one occasion and to others too. The ACC tournament allows a team to get to the NCAA.s even if they finished last in the regular season. The four day contest is a battle for entry, seeding and cold hard cash.
And it's great for sending a weary runner-up and champion against unheralded mid-majors.

Posted by: Jomace | March 5, 2007 2:06 PM | Report abuse

MDT makes a teriffic point. Virginia, for example, was the only team to play Wake Forest, NC State and Miami twice this season. Of course, the Cavs went 4-2 against those teams and 7-3 against the others. Perhaps the only unbalanced schedule Virginia could take full advantage is one in which they play 10 games at home.

Dave Richardson's first post already wins the contest.

Also, for anyone reading at home, ESPN Classic is currently showing the Duke-Maryland ACC semifinal from 2001. A painful memory for several readers, I'm sure, but what a game.

Posted by: Adam Kilgore | March 5, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree with MDT. Any league in which there is the right number of teams to play a home and home against everyone should send the regular season champion to the NCAAs. Is the Ivy League the only league that still does this? And those leagues that have only recently introduced a tournament (I'm thinking Pac-10) - is this just for financial gain?

Posted by: tmc | March 5, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Kilgore--UVA was also unable to play UNC or BC at home. This unbalanced schedule thing is garbage. It isn't just who you play, but where you play them. Notice how VT only played Maryland once. You sure don't hear anybody talking about them. If anything playing Duke twice this year was an advantage.

Posted by: Dude | March 5, 2007 2:31 PM | Report abuse

As a wise man once asked me - if you're playing b-ball with Michael Jordan would you rather play to 2 or to 20? In the short run you have a better chance to beat a better team than in the long run. Regular season baby. Although I will admit that the season was a better judge when every team played every other team at home AND away...

Posted by: Michelle | March 5, 2007 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes it just won't matter. It's possible to win the ACC season, lose in the first round of the ACC tournament, and still get a better seed in the NCAA tournament than the official ACC winner. Especially if your name begins with Duke or UNC....

Posted by: REP | March 5, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

The reason almost every conference now has a tournament is because of the success of the original, the ACC's.

The ACC Tournament is a great experience where all of the schools come together - and of course that means all of the school's longtime boosters - for the ultimate communal sports experience. It is the same faces in (mostly) the same place, year after year. That continuity, that tradition, builds a tremendous bond between each school and its supporters that goes on regardless of whether the school goes on to the NCAA Tournament, the NIT or their TV sets at home.

There is a tremendous value to that kind of experience; and obviously, the bond between a school and its supporters translates pretty directly into money. The financial benefit from an institution like an ACC Tournament is not so much from gate receipts or TV rights, but from the constant level of donations that each school gets from the boosters (alums and otherwise) just so that they get the opportunity to purchase tournament tickets.

To be guaranteed the right to purchase two ACC Tournament seats, you have to give five thousand dollars per year to the Terrapin Club. Each school gets about 2,500 seats (varying of course with the venue); do the math.

Posted by: Mark in Hyattsville | March 5, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

UVa alum and former player here...when we shared the ACC regular season back in 94-95, we got rings and I think they even hung a banner in U-Hall, but anyone on that team would have given an arm to have won the ACC tournament. Even after going to the Elite Eight the following week, we would have given it up for the real ACC title.

Posted by: hoos30 | March 5, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Despite what Adam says, I don't think you do get to put up a banner if you win the regular season title--only the tournament champion does.

Posted by: Eric | March 5, 2007 2:52 PM | Report abuse

In completely ignoring the actual debate, Merry Ward would have been much better off Merrying UVa Men's Lacrosse Star Johnathan Christmas.

Posted by: FS | March 5, 2007 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I would say the regular season conference champion is the true champ. You've shown yourself through a longer period. However I'm sure with tonights game (mason vs. vcu) many of their fans would beg to differ. On the subject, I sure am glad we have under card games such as the one tonight. It's a really good warm up for when the real conference tourney's start.

Posted by: Denesh | March 5, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Come on. The winner should at least get some of the ACC Tournament swag Prisbell will be squirreling away in Tampa.

Anyway, these days the only answer is the ACC Tournament. The regular-season title is determined as much by the luck of the schedule as the quality of teams (five teams finished 11-5 or 10-6, meaning that the only thing separating Maryland from the outright first-place finish might have been that the Terps got Boston College and Virginia Tech on the road and not at home). The ACC tourney, on the other hand, is the best non-NCAA Tournament weekend in sports.

Win that and you not only get a banner, you get to see the Duke and UNC fans cry. It doesn't get much better than that.

Posted by: Bermanator | March 5, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

As someone said above, because of the pre-NCAA Tourney expansion era history of the tournament, I think the ACC Tournament title is a bigger deal than the ACC regular season "championship." Still being that the NCAA field is now 65 teams, I wouldn't really care if my team won either of them so long as they put themselves in good position to succeed in the NCAA Tournament.

Posted by: Tito | March 5, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

If the Atlantic Coast Conference says that the tournament winner shall be champion, it is the proper decision. Do not question the wise and mighty commissioners and governors of the ACC, present or past. It is unbecoming to do so. To do so is to call into question the omniscience of the ACC, my friend. Repent, and ye shall be forgiven for your lack of faith.

Posted by: Louis The Rogue | March 5, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

MD had to play BC and VT once each, on the road. Hosed.

Regular season is now a joke, means nothing.

Posted by: Freddie | March 5, 2007 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Freddie, UVa only played BC and UNC on the road. But that's the schedule, and you simply do the best with it you can. Who would have thought back in November that people would be upset that they only got to play VPI in Blacksburgh?

Posted by: FS | March 5, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I believed that, as the league bylaws say, the tournament champ was the true champ even when there was a true round robin. However, with the unbalanced schedule its not even close. Viginia and North Carolina played, both subjectively and statistically (winning %), the easiest conference schedules this year. They both had good seasons and deserve to be commended, but you can't crown a winner if everyone is running a completely different race.

UNC cutting down a net for a co-regular season championship with an unbalanced schedule is beneath the program and the equivalent of storming the court for a less than worthy victory.

Posted by: Sir Stealth | March 5, 2007 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I agree about the unbalanced schedule. The ACC has the divisions in place for football and baseball, why not use them for basketball? Play everyone in your division twice, everybody outside once, and voila, 16 games. You then seed the tournament strictly based on the standings within a division, which is how the Big East does it. 1 Coastal plays 6 Atlantic, etc. There'd still be complaints about who had to play who on the road and at home, but tough.

Posted by: Ryan | March 5, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

you know what would be great, if every team had only home games, then you'd really see who the true champ is

Posted by: Anonymous | March 5, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

This is from an article in the Roanoke paper that ran last Tuesday:

"It took three calls to the ACC office Monday to determine that, in fact, the ACC does recognize a regular-season men's basketball champion.

After first saying that there was no award "that I'm aware of," assistant commissioner Brian Morrison found mention of a trophy on page 67 of the ACC's operations manual."

So I guess UNC gets the trophy? Who knows? And as for banners, anyone can hang a banner -- UVa has a banner for "ACC first place regular season" (neatly dodging the regular-season "champion" issue). The banner lists 81, 82, 83, and 95, so now I guess they will add this year.

Posted by: Dean Smith | March 5, 2007 4:41 PM | Report abuse

The ACC may not recognize regular season champions, but individual programs do. Regular season versus post-season...sounds like a BigSoccer debate. At this point I think it depends on the team as to which is more important and what the goals are. Historically, some teams have done well in the NCAA tournament after early departures from the conference tournaments where teams beat each other up. If you have a dominant team that is highly ranked nationally, bowing out early can mean extra rest. If you are a good team that isn't highly ranked, success in the tournament is validation and will give the team credit nationally. Roy Williams doesn't care about the ACC tournament. Of course, there are also teams that need to play their way into the NCAA tournament and teams that are also playing for NCAA seeding and may need a couple of wins. Those teams want to win the tournament.

Of course the points about the unbalanced schedule are good points, but I think I'd have greater satisfaction in the accomplishments of my team if they won a regular season title.

Posted by: sitruc | March 5, 2007 8:46 PM | Report abuse

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