Q&A with Mark Bialczak, author of The Syracuse Fan’s Survival Guide to the ACC

Longtime basketball beat writer for the Post-Standard Mike Waters and former sports editor of the Post-Standard Mark Bialczak have been around the Syracuse basketball program for quite some time. Both also happen to be alumni of schools in the ACC (Waters went to UNC, Bialczak went to Maryland).

The two collaborated on The Syracuse Fan’s Survival Guide to the ACC, recently released in June. It’s a must-read for Syracuse fans who are getting to know their new neighbors. It details every school in the ACC (minus Maryland, more on that below) including their school history, athletic records, places to stay and go, funny/weird/unique traditions and SU’s history with the schools. If there is a bar worth going to or a fun fact worth knowing, Bialczak and Waters have covered it with detailed and thorough research. In other words, this book is the Fodor’s of ACC road trips.

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Meet SU’s new rivals in this book

The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman caught up with Bialczak to chat with him about his new book.

Brad Bierman: How did you decide what you wanted to put into this book?

Mark Bialczak: We knew there would be a lot of things that people would want to know right off the bat. I thought that talking about the school traditions and other places, and the histories of the University and the sports teams would be interesting for Syracuse fans who would say, ‘You know, we’ll be seeing Duke coming to town, and North Carolina State coming to town.’ We talked to people in these towns and tried to find as many different nuggets that might be interesting for Syracuse fans. For instance, John Heisman coached at two different ACC schools and won a national championship at one, and I’m not going to tell you which, because you have to get the book to find out.

BB: What was the reaction like up in Syracuse when they announced they were leaving for the ACC?

MB: I think that, of course, when the announcement was made, there was a faction of people who didn’t want to leave the Big East. And there was a faction that said that this could be a step up. As events unfolded after that, really, there is no more Big East football. Instead of the ACC, it’s the AAC. I think that fans say that we’re in a good position to be going to the ACC instead of being Connecticut. Being left to deal with the ramifications of Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Louisville, leaving. People at the beginning who didn’t like the move at the start think now that it’s good for the program.

BB: Do you sense the excitement among the fans?

MB: I do. For one thing, people will start very soon getting ready for that ACC opener in the Dome. It’s going to be Clemson as the first ACC game. And, you know, Clemson was really good last season. They beat LSU in the Peach Bowl on the last second, a very exciting game. And they have one of the Heisman Trophy front runners in Tajh Boyd. It’s probably the most exciting team in the league this year is coming to town.

BB: I have to think that playing Duke and North Carolina is a big upgrade in marquee names for Syracuse basketball.

MB: Most certainly. Duke and North Carolina in basketball, those are storied programs. That is new blood coming into the Carrier Dome. It should be very exciting. They’re going to be the new rivals.

BB: What are some of the neat things that Syracuse fans will learn that will make you laugh that we can look forward to in the book?

MB: The students down at North Carolina State, they started this tradition that caught my eye. It’s called the Krispy Kreme run. It started with 12 frat guys who took a dare that they couldn’t run from the famous bell tower location a mile or so down to the Krispy Kreme, eat a dozen donuts, and then run back to the bell tower. It turned from a dare, like, 12 years ago, and it turned into fund raiser. Now they have 10,000 people running from the bell tower to the Krispy Kreme and wolfing down donuts, and running back and raising money. I thought that was pretty funny and terrific at the same time.

BB: Who would you guess that Syracuse’s new rival will be in the ACC? Could Duke be a big rival for Syracuse, especially after Duke defeated Syracuse in the lacrosse national championship? Could it be Boston College because they will play each other to close the regular season?

MB: It could be. For a while, anyway, there is the Coach B and Coach K connection. They’re going to coach for three whole cycles with the Olympic basketball team, including the next one that was recently announced. There is that connection already through the two universities through those two gentlemen. Two of the most successful basketball coaches, ever. And you’re right, the Blue Devils in lacrosse, they just won the national title, a title Syracuse thinks it deserves to win every year. That should be a good rival, too. In football, it could be Miami. That could heat up again. In the Donovan McNabb years, Syracuse and Miami, in football, they hated each other. You mentioned BC, that’s an old big rival from the Big East. Pittsburgh, too. And Louisville is going there next year. Syracuse beat Louisville a couple years in a row, and Louisville was thought to be really hot stuff. There’s a football rivalry there, too.

BB: I noticed there was no Maryland chapter. How about your thoughts, you being a Terp alum, there was no Maryland in the book, is it because it was only going to be one year?

MB: Somebody of a higher pay grade than me made that decision. They told Mike and I they didn’t want a Maryland chapter because it would date the book somewhat, so we listened to them. So how do you think I felt when I heard that, about Maryland leaving the ACC for the Big 10? I said, finally, my alma mater and the university in the city I’ve lived for the last 29 years are going to be in the same league, and then I find out it’s going to be for one season. Not only that, Syracuse is going to Maryland. I don’t even get to see the Terps in the Dome for one year. And in basketball, the Terps aren’t coming to the Dome, either. As a Maryland alum, I feel that the move to the Big 10 can be beneficial for them, too. This move for Syracuse to the move for the ACC means I can continue to follow the league I’ve followed for so many years.

BB: Where will be the most interesting trips for Syracuse fans?

MB: Syracuse fans will really like to go down to Governor’s Triangle in North Carolina (NC State, North Carolina, Duke). They’re so close together. You can take one trip and you can see the games you’re going to see on one campus, but I wrote in the book that, ‘Hey, you’re there already, go to the other two universities when you’re down there.’ One trip there, and you can check of a lot of must sees on your college venue list.

BB: I know for basketball, Jim Boeheim is going to beg for the road Miami game on a Saturday or Sunday because he’s always loved going down there for an extra day or two because of the Syracuse winters. I’m sure Syracuse fans will be heading down there.

MB: That’s good for everybody up in Central New York. If you’re able to take that trip in the winter, of course. There’s only a 70-80 degree difference in temperatures.

Make sure to get your copy of The Syracuse Fan’s Survival Guide to the ACC on Amazon.

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Wes Cheng

About Wes Cheng

Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.
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