Scroll down for Todd Turner’s photo gallery of the last day of the ACC Tournament.
There is a moment in every basketball game when you know it is over. Sometimes it’s not until the final buzzer sounds, but usually it’s a good bit before then — like last night, when I knew Carolina was going to lose to Syracuse when there was still 7:47 left on the clock. The Tar Heels were down 24 points by then, with no plan and all the late-game momentum going against them. That’s when I stopped keeping score.
“We’re not playing these games today,” says Ed Hardin, the venerable News & Record sports columnist who knows this moment better than most, the moment I get to the coliseum floor this morning. The SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and the Big East had already pulled their games, he tells me, and the ACC was sure to follow.
But like last night’s Carolina fans, I somehow still hold on to my belief: that I was going to cover a basketball game without fans, something I was quite eager to do, from a journalistic perspective. Historic! And everything looked good to go: The upper deck of the Greensboro Coliseum has been condoned off with black gauze curtains in anticipation of the much smaller crowd. The Florida State Seminoles are right there on the floor going through pre-game drills. They’re even doing the game-band showdown with Clemson while the cheerleaders do their thing.
But there are more spirit squad members than fans — just a few clusters from each team, evident in splashes of maroon and orange against the blue of the coliseum seats. There are more media people here than both of those combined: national sports press, local websites and radio, college journalists, an army of photographers and camera operators, all milling ghostlike around the press room and dining hall. There’s nothing to report when you’re living the story. There are even more coliseum staffers than that on duty today, most of whom will not be getting that bump in their next paychecks that they had anticipated.
And then Florida State disappears from the court. And then the press forms a huddle five deep around ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who’s emerged from the depths of the coliseum to say his piece. The ACC regular-season championship trophy is there too, leaning against a courtside chair.
It’s so quiet you can hear the HVAC hum.
The Seminoles come from the locker room as a team, dressed in game jerseys. The Clemson squad, in warm-up T-shirts, soon follows. The scrum widens around Swofford and the Seminoles, so tall reporters must hold their phones up in the air to shoot the announcement over their heads.
“We’re all dealing with a very fluid and unknown enemy, worldwide,” he says, quietly, with palpable remorse, like he’s putting an old friend to rest. “We don’t know exactly what that means for the future.
“The league has made a decision to end this ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament,” he continues. And he’s just so, so sorry. The teams. The fans. The city of Greensboro. He even thanks the media, which we don’t get a lot of these days.
On the periphery stands Matt Brown, director of the Greensboro Coliseum complex, with arms crossed. The man normally looks like he’s made out of granite. Today he looks like a mountain that’s been shaken by an earthquake. He’s got no comment. But what is there to say, anyway?
“It was a fluid situation,” Swofford continues from inside the media ring. “The information was changing, we used to say by the week. Then I said by the day, and then by the hour.”
He names Florida State the ACC Champion, awards the trophy and reminds us that the Seminoles will be representing the ACC in the NCAA Championship Tournament next week.
“If there is an NCAA tournament,” he clarifies. “We hope there will be. We can’t assure there will be.”
And just like that, the ACC Tournament is over.
There are other casualties, too.
“March was supposed to be a banner month for us,” says Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan by phone later that day, now dealing with the coronavirus on multiple fronts. “We had the ACC, the NCAA, the Tanger Center opening, a great month for the city. We had wonderful events. Free events for people, a festival, games on the marquee, KC & the Sunshine Band, tailgating out at Piedmont Hall, there’s an event going on over there, and the St. Patrick’s Day Party on Sunday at South End. A great weekend of ACC and celebrating, and a lot of great, free events. And then there would be the NCAA and the mini folk fest at Lebauer Park next weekend. So lot of people, a lot of fun and a great time to be in Greensboro.”
She sighs. There’s more. Vaughan has deep ties to the ACC. Her father, Fred Barakat, was the director of Men’s Basketball Operations from 2000 until he died in 2010.
“For some people it’s just basketball,” she says. “For other people it’s their living.”
The smoking section, where the coliseum foodservice workers took their breaks, is barren, the supply tent stripped of its wares.
Off the coliseum floor at the photo desk, they’re folding the neon vests worn by TV crews and stacking them in a box. Back in the media suite, the long tables are empty save for a few scribes filing their reports from the presser. A few stragglers descend on the final buffet — hot dogs and beans and chicken sandwiches — or loot the snack station one last time. But the critical mass — national newspapers, sports news networks and radio folks have packed up their traveling roadshow and moved on to the next big thing.
If there is a next big thing.
Out in Lot K, a cameraman from Louisville uncertainly unloads his equipment from the company car.
“Where I’m from,” he says, “we’re worried about the Kentucky Derby.”