Is it too early?
Sitting at the North Carolina State-Virginia basketball game Sunday, I kept thinking that the game was just too early. The calendar had, after all, just barley flipped from November to December, and the ACC football title game hadn’t even been over a good 24 hours. And yet, just three days into December, here I was watching two ACC basketball teams play a conference game. Too early.
And it wasn’t the only ACC game either. Georgia Tech was busy losing to Miami on the same day. Two teams - North Carolina State and Georgia Tech - that are relying heavily on inexperienced players to carry them far this season had to hit the road for ACC games, and both came out on the wrong end of the score. State fell to Virginia, while Miami upset Georgia Tech.
“It’s a disadvantage playing against any conference team this early, whether you’re an experienced team or not,” State coach Sidney Lowe said after his team’s game. “The ACC, it’s a battle, it’s a war. If you go on the road it’s tough. But I don’t want to make excuses for our guys.”
Excuse or not, it seemed very early to me for a conference game. But maybe it was just me. So, I asked Dan Bonner, who worked the television broadcast of the State-Virginia game for Fox Sports Net, if he thought it was too early.
“The difference between the old days and now is not the earlier start of conference games, but the earlier start of the season itself,” Bonner said. “Thirty years ago, practice started October 15 and the first games were played during the first week in December.”
Bonner should know because he was playing in the ACC then. Bonner played for UVa. and remembers some early conference games.
“My freshman year, we played Duke on December 4 and Maryland on December 8, both home games, respectively, our second and third games of the year,” Bonner said. “Sophomore year, we played at Wake Forest in our third game of the year on December 8. Junior year, we played Duke on December 8 in our third game of the year. During my senior year at Virginia, we opened the season at home on December 2 - won a squeaker over Washington and Lee - played game number two on December 4 at home against Kent State - we murdered them by way - and then played at NC State on December 7.”
Bonner makes a good point – from an historical perspective, the games aren’t really that early this season, and, in terms of when they fall on a team’s schedule, the conference games are actually later this year. In other words, the four teams that played games on Sunday had more game experience before they entered conference play than teams did three decades ago.
“Starting the season during the first week in November is really early and is, in my view, at least a slight disadvantage to younger teams,” Bonner said. “But starting ACC play in early December is par for the course in the history of the ACC and is no more an advantage or disadvantage now than it was in the 1960-61 season when Virginia played Maryland in its first game of the season on December 3, and then played at North Carolina in its second game on December 6.”
Point well taken. But it still seemed early.
- Patrick Hite