Greener Pa$tures: A look at the ACC defectors

Did you hear? The conference is expanding to get a football championship game, and it might grab Syracuse out of the Big East to do it. Jim Boeheim doesn’t like it, but money talks, and football talks loudest. The Orange might end up moving to…

…the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Big Ten expansion this past offseason set off another wave of panic over whether we’d seen our last classic tournament performance at Madison Square Garden. This time, it was the Big 12 that had to deal with the fallout, but in 2003, we were the ones who had to figure out how to keep the conference together after losing three members. To say that Big East basketball survived is putting it mildly. But what of those who followed the cash to the ACC?

When we said goodbye to the University of Miami, it was firing Perry Clark after four years of regression following the success of Leonard Hamilton at the U. Under new coach Frank Haith, the Hurricanes have floated between middle-of-the-pack and bottom-feeder in the ACC, with one NCAA Tournament berth behind two-time All-ACC first-teamer Jack McClinton. The Hurricanes are back to the bottom again this year, but they’re a Florida football school, so nobody cares.

Virginia Tech is another big football program whose basketball credentials are definitely not where it hangs its hat. A two-game run in the 2007 NCAA tournament tied its one appearance in all of its 13 years in the Big East. Coach Seth Greenberg has established the Hokies as an annual fixture on the bubble of the Big Dance, and this year is no exception. In typical fashion, after an impressive upset of conference-leading Duke, Virginia Tech got manhandled at home by fellow bubble team and defector Boston College. It must really miss playing at MSG.

The BC Eagles were the last team to go, their departure delayed a year pending the results of a lawsuit between the two conferences. In a program with minimal prestige in an underwhelming prep region, longtime Eagle Al Skinner had forged a team out of the overlooked and under-recruited. Armed with two such players in future All-Americans Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, BC made a Sweet 16 run in its first ACC season.

The glitz and glamor of Duke and UNC recruiting classes filled with McDonald’s All-Americans proved too tempting for the administration, however, and it used an underwhelming performance last season to justify canning the successful Skinner for someone flashier and more high-profile.

The administration couldn’t find anyone, though, so it ended up hiring Cornell coach Steve Donahue. I’m sure those Ivy League recruiting tactics will show Roy Williams what’s what.

When BCS conferences start talking expansion, basketball is always the afterthought. BC, the only basketball program of the three that anyone actually thought twice about, was a throw-in after the Syracuse deal didn’t go through. Nebraska, the Big Ten’s big catch this past year, has never won an NCAA Tournament game. I’m sure with all the football money they rake in none of those teams miss the epic basketball we get to see at MSG every spring.

They’ve still got the NIT.