by Sam Hieb
Update: ACC announces the remainder of the men’s basketball tournament will be closed to spectators.
You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little confused by the Raleigh News & Observer’s sports department this morning. As you probably know, the Greensboro Coliseum is the site for this year’s ACC Tournament. The city-owned and operated coliseum has been the jewel of the Gate City since it opened in 1959 (btw director Matt Brown is the city’s highest-paid employee) and is regarded as the tournament’s traditional home. But conference expansion and the desire for stronger TV revenue has dictated it be held in larger cities. It’s expected that from now on a three-city rotation–New York, Washington and Charlotte–will be in place.
Which leaves Greensboro as the odd man out and, with this in mind, the N&O penned a couple of swan songs. Joe Giglio wrote about “the value to holding the event where it’s cherished and still has deep connection to many of its fans,” while Luke DeCock just yesterday wrote:
In some ways, Greensboro has as much at stake this week as North Carolina. There are a lot of new, skeptical athletic directors in the ACC who have never seen the tournament here. That’s one reason why only the next two tournaments have been awarded. The Greensboro loyalists within the ACC wanted to make sure everyone had this experience before they voted on the future, which is going to include Washington and Charlotte and Brooklyn. The only question is whether that’s with Greensboro or instead of Greensboro.
A historic run by a traditional in-state power that has fallen on hard times might provoke the kind of atmosphere for which Greensboro has become famous. Or Greensboro might just provide it on its own, with or without North Carolina.
Which is why I don’t understand why DeCock now calls for locking fans out of the tournament for fear of spreading the coronavirus:
The real danger of spreading the novel coronavirus isn’t interactions between dozens of players and dozens of reporters; it’s 20,000 people sitting inches from each other for four hours. By the end of the weekend, tens of thousands of people will have shared the air in the Greensboro Coliseum, sneezing on each other, touching the same surfaces, then dispersing across the east coast.
In most years, there’s no problem keeping fans out of the building on Tuesday. The teams playing usually do a pretty good job of that themselves. North Carolina’s inaugural appearance led to a very atypical atmosphere, Thursday’s crowd two days early.
If things get worse in the region, the ACC may have no choice but to lock the doors. The health crisis is moving so quickly, changing so fast, that what’s true at lunch may no longer be true by dinner. But that’s only another reason to be proactive instead of reactive.
It’s just basketball. It’s not life or death. Even in North Carolina.
I’m not a CDC expert, and sportswriters certainly aren’t, either. I’m going about my business–I went to a minor league hockey game the other nite and really didn’t think twice about it. ACC officials will have to make this call, but my gut tells me if they haven’t done it yet they’re not going to do it. But if if Greensboro indeed does have so much at stake at this year’s tournament, as DeCock wrote, then locking fans out would be a critical blow.