- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The ACC tournament will return to the Washington area Thursday for the first time in 18 years, but the event likely won’t be back anytime soon.

The recent expansion by the league increasingly is forcing conference officials to use venues larger than MCI Center to stage the four-day event.

The Georgia Dome in Atlanta and Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum — the arenas seat more than 36,000 and 23,000, respectively — are expected to remain regulars because of their large capacity.

MCI Center, which will seat 20,000 for the ACC tournament, will compete with several smaller arenas to play infrequent host to the tournament.

This week’s event marks the first time the tournament has been held in the Washington area since 1987, when it was staged at Capital Centre in Landover for the third time in 11 years.

“The old paradigm of ‘do we play in North Carolina or outside Carolina’ is getting ready to change to ‘do we play in a facility that seats 23,000 or one that seats 40,000?’ ” Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said.

The Georgia Dome averaged 36,505 a session during the 2001 ACC tournament — an NCAA record for a conference tournament — and seated 40,083 for one session. The 2009 tournament is scheduled to be held at the Georgia Dome, the only domed facility within ACC territory.

The 2006 and 2010 tournaments will be held at Greensboro Coliseum, and smaller venues in Tampa, Fla., (2007) and Charlotte, N.C., (2008) already are scheduled to play host to tournaments. However, the arenas in Tampa and Charlotte aren’t likely to be awarded additional tournaments.

The ACC, which grew from nine to 11 teams this year, will play three games on the opening day of the tournament for the first time. Four games will be played on the opening day next year, when Boston College joins the conference.

The increased number of teams and the smaller venue in MCI Center forced conference officials to reduce each school’s allotment by 491 tickets. Each school received nearly 2,400 tickets last year, when the event was held at Greensboro Coliseum. Each school received less than 2,000 for this week’s event at MCI Center.

MCI Center still could play host to the tournament again, however. ACC commissioner John Swofford said the tournament still needs to rotate through the seven states in which the conference has a member. How well schools manage with fewer tickets this week will determine how often smaller venues will get it.

There is no timetable to determine the 2011 site.

“We have a double whammy of a smaller arena and additional schools,” Swofford said. “We’ll just have to see how our experiences are in smaller arenas.”

Since its inception in 1954, the ACC has distributed tickets to alumni through schools rather than by selling large blocks to corporate sponsors.

However, the current cutback forced each school to create a waiting list and deny tickets to some fans who have received them for many years. Virginia has more than 400 people on its waiting list. Some fans will wait at nearby hotels hoping for last-minute cancellations.

The cutback could prove costly to schools, though.

Tournament tickets are a big incentive for many alumni to remain in booster organizations that contribute millions of dollars to each school.

Ticket distribution at Maryland follows the practice of most ACC schools. Length of membership in the Terrapin Club and the amount of money donated determines who gets tickets.

“The individual schools use the ACC tournament for fund-raising,” ACC associate commissioner Fred Barakat said. “If we have 400 to 500 less tickets, it could make people angry and pull back money they give, or it could have people giving more money to get tickets.”

The NCAA tournament also is being staged in larger venues. Maryland won the 2002 national championship in a game played before 53,406 fans at the Georgia Dome. Fans don’t seem to mind paying top dollar for long-distance views that often are inferior to watching the game on television.

“The national championship has survived well in domes,” Terrapins coach Gary Williams said. “When you get to that level, fans want to be there. Some seats aren’t as good as a place with 18,000 seats, but you’re still there.”

The ACC tournament long has been a staple in North Carolina, largely because four of the ACC’s charter members are within 90 minutes of Greensboro and Raleigh.

Greensboro has played host to a record 20 tournaments, including the last two. Thirteen tournaments were held in Raleigh and 11 in Charlotte. Only four have been held in Atlanta and three in Landover, prompting many coaches over the years to say North Carolina schools gain an unfair advantage in the tournament.

Williams, however, yearns for Greensboro, where his team won its first ACC tournament championship last season.

“You’re talking to a guy who complained for 17 years that it was in North Carolina, and we won it last year,” he said. “I almost wish it was down there [this year].”

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