Across the river, the Big Ten has already packed up and gone home, already regretting its decision to play its tournament a week early to get into Madison Square Garden, as well as it actually went.
The ACC chose Brooklyn instead, and began its second and, for the moment, final week-in-residency there on Tuesday. Last year's experience was a little odd: vibrant inside the building but without making so much as a ripple in the vast news puddle that is the greater New York market. (The majority of the coverage focused on whether the Knicks would draft Jayson Tatum.)
The next two years, the tournament returns to its spiritual home, first in Charlotte, then in Greensboro, to Jim Boeheim's perpetual dismay. After that? Who knows.
What we do know is that this week probably isn't the ACC's farewell to Brooklyn, if commissioner John Swofford has his way. In an interview Tuesday, Swofford said he'd like to see the ACC adopt some kind of North Carolina-Washington-New York rotation after 2020, and since the Big East has a lock on the Garden through 2026, the earliest the ACC could possibly get in there would be 2027 – farther out than the next cycle is likely to be bid. (Although that future cycle should include the a return of the 75th ACC tournament to Raleigh in 2028.)
Since Swofford flat-out refused to entertain the notion of going a week early like the Big Ten, that leaves the ACC two New York options in the immediate future: Brooklyn or a complicated sharing arrangement of Madison Square Garden with the Big East. The latter is feasible – with the right amounts of imagination and filthy lucre to lubricate the process – but unlikely. That puts a return to Barclays Center on the cards for 2022 or 2023, with the Garden still somewhere in the hazy uncertain future.
“We'll cross that bridge down the road if the opportunity arises,” Swofford said. “The Big East has a long history with the Garden. But our experience here last year was very, very good. Obviously we know the rounds a bit better the second time here. I think the more recent rotation that we've had of North Carolina and Washington and New York has worked well. Personally, I still think a rotation is what's in the best interests of the league, semi-permanent. And I don't know how far out you go. The world changes. At one point we did a 10-year rotation. I don't think you'll see us doing that in the near future.”
The two best sites for the tournament, given the conference's past history, current footprint and Friday-Saturday night schedule, are Washington and Charlotte. They're easy to get to and have plenty of entertainment options around the arena. Those should be locks in any rotation. Greensboro has sentimental value for the old ACC, but major drawbacks compared to the competition. New York has sentimental value for the old Big East, but even that grumpy group grumbles about being in Brooklyn instead of the Garden.
Swofford downplayed the idea of going back out to the periphery of the league – Florida, Atlanta … Pittsburgh? Boston? – which leaves a three-city cycle of Washington, Brooklyn and Charlotte through 2023 the most obvious option when the tournament's future comes up for debate at the league's spring meetings in May, even if a decision isn't reached then.
“I put it in terms with our schools of respecting the past and embracing the future,” Swofford said. “What I mean by that is embracing the fact that currently and for the long term we are a 15-member league that spans the entire east coast and we've got markets that give us opportunities we've never had before. But at the same time, the roots of the ACC are in North Carolina.”
There's nothing wrong with the Barclays Center or the atmosphere inside it. Its main drawback is that it isn't Madison Square Garden. As long as Swofford is committed to honoring the Big East exiles' wishes to play in New York, Brooklyn is the ACC's only option.
So while this may not quite be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, it isn't farewell, either.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock