GREENSBORO, N.C. — This city of nearly 300,000 in the heart of North Carolina’s Triad region has become something of a flash point as the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded beyond its Carolina roots.
Greensboro and the historic Greensboro Coliseum are the ancestral home of the ACC men’s basketball tournament, having hosted it 26 times, first in 1967 and most recently in 2015.
No other venue has hosted out more, in fact, the second and third most-frequent hosts have held the tournament a combined 24 times.
When the league was eight teams, with fully half of them in the state of North Carolina and most of the rest a short day’s drive away, holding the tournament in Greensboro made sense. It’s situated right in the heart of basketball country, but not home turf for any of Duke, North Carolina, NC State or Wake Forest.
But the league now has 15 teams, from disparate locales such as Boston, northern Indiana, Miami, and Syracuse, New York. Those teams also largely came from the Big East Conference, which held its tournament at the historic Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan.
It’s hard to imagine an American city more divergent from the hustle and bustle of New York than sleepy Greensboro.
Its detractors have been vocal at times, including Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
“It’s always important when you play in a tournament that they have a basketball court and an arena,” Boeheim said in 2014. “They’ve got that in Greensboro.”
In 2017, he was more direct.
“There’s no value to playing in Greensboro,” he said. “None.”
You can count Pitt head coach Jeff Capel in the opposite faction. A North Carolina native that grew up watching the tournament in Greensboro and played here twice while at Duke, he feels the historical ties to the conference’s heritage.
“Well I think it’s important,” Capel said. “I mean, if you look at the history of this league, this is where the tournament traditionally was before we had expansion. I think it was here and Atlanta, in the Omni. That’s the only two places I remember it being as I was growing up here.
“You think of the greats of college basketball, they played in this building. This state loves basketball and they love the ACC. And you know, anytime you play here there’s going to be passion in the building, there’s going to be excitement, there’s going to be people and there’s going to be people that just love basketball. Certainly they have allegiance to their team, but they love basketball.”
That’s true, and Pitt took advantage on Tuesday, as the large North Carolina contingent in the crowd seemed to pick up the Panthers’ cause against Wake Forest.
The debate on the subject isn’t likely to die down any time soon. The tournament will rotate back to Washington, D.C.’s Capital One Center in 2021 and then to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2022, with the future beyond that up in the air.