Krzyzewski To The Lakers??!!

I thought that the addition of two new schools to the ACC was the news of the day.
Wrong.
I guess it still is a basketball conference, because the idea that Coach Krzyzewski might leave Duke for the Los Angeles Lakers is HUGE. I saw this rumor earlier in the day, but never saw any confirmation, so I didn’t write anything about it. Well, it’s true. They’re talking and he’s listening.
The big questions now are will he go, why would he go and why would the Lakers want him.
As for why the Lakers would want him, that’s a tough question. There’s no doubt that Coach K is a great college coach. He’s on a very short list of the best ever. The NBA isn’t that different from college, but recent history has shown that college success doesn’t necessarily translate to The League. Ask Tarkanian, Pitino and Carlesimo. Granted, K is better than all of those guys, but why would a team like the Lakers take that chance? It’s very interesting.
As to whether or not K will take the offer, well, there’s no way to know. He wouldn’t have gotten this far if he wasn’t interested. Evidently, he first talked to them as far back as Tuesday. He didn’t say no right away, so you have to assume there’s a chance he’ll leave.
Now, why would he leave? He couldn’t possibly have a better situation than his at Duke. He is worshiped and respected in Durham. The court is named after him. He has a lifetime contract. He gets pretty much any recruit he wants. He wins.
Life is good. Great even.
But is it perfect?
College basketball has changed in recent years. Top players leave early for the NBA if they go to college at all. At schools like Duke, who recruit only the best players, this is an issue that won’t go away. It seemed for a while that Duke was immune from the disease, but that changed when Elton Brand decided to leave after his sophomore year. Brand broke the seal. Corey Maggette and Will Avery left shortly after and the floodgates have been open ever since. This spring, Duke lost two young players in Luol Deng and Shaun Livingston. Those are two young men who the Duke coaches spent a lot of time and energy recruiting only to win the battle and still only get them for a total of one season. That has to be frustrating.
The ACC is changing as well. As I wrote earlier today, the ACC just expanded with three football schools. Krzyzewski was the most vocal dissenter among people with any say in the matter. He was openly critical of the idea of messing with the ACC basketball, the cornerstone of the ACC’s 50 year history. He clearly didn’t like the idea of the conference positioning itself to be a football-first conference.
The greatest thing that might send Coach K packing though is something completely different. He may be bored. That perfect program he built may have gotten too easy. Sure, it’s still competitive and every year’s different, but what does he have to prove? He could drop dead tomorrow and be ranked as one of the three or four best college coaches of all time. You could make an argument that he’s #1. And he’s still rolling; there’s no end in sight to the Duke dynasty. For a guy who likes to fight, that may not be exciting any more. Sure, he loves to win, but he may be enticed by the opportunity to struggle again, to fight against opponents who can fight back. Would he rather coach against Pete Gillen or Jerry Sloan? Herb Sendek or Larry Brown? Find ways to stop Julius Hodge or Tracy McGrady? Sean May or Tim Duncan?
So, that’s what I think it’s all about. I think Coach K is excited by the idea of being tested again. Yeah, it could be something else, like extra notoriety for succeeding at both levels, or even just money, but I don’t think so. I think the old West Point man wants to fight again.
ps. I wonder if the Lakers have made any promises about having either Shaq or Kobe next year? I couldn’t imagine Coach K considering the job otherwise. Remember that Kobe has often said that if he had gone to college, it would have been Duke. So, it may be that they met years ago when Kobe was still in high school. Even if not, Kobe is obviously very aware of Krzyzewski and who he is. I doubt that Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers GM, would be talking with K if he hadn’t already confirmed that Kobe would be OK with him.

Hey Hurricanes! Hokies, Hi!

The ACC welcomes The University of Miami and Virginia Tech into the conference today. The much debated conference expansion is now official, with the conference now having eleven teams. Next summer, Boston College will also join, bringing the number to twelve.
I haven’t written much about the expansion here, mostly because it’s a sore subject for me. I wasn’t for expansion, and I’m still not. I understand the arguments of the proponents, but I just don’t agree. Unfortunately, those disagreements are all moot now. The deed is done.
That said, I’ll run down my reasons for not supporting expansion.
Culture, Geography and Rivalries
What makes a truly good conference is not just competitive teams, but rivalries. Fans need to teams to hate. Rivalries come about because of a combination of geography, culture and history.
Teams that are near each other make natural rivals. You love to beat the team from just down the road or from you neighboring state. Nearby teams have alumni who mingle. Your neighbor or coworker went there and they’re obnoxious about cheering, so you’d like nothing better than for your team to crush their team. Who gets fired up to play a team from a state 800 miles away with alumni you’ve never met?
Along with geography comes culture. Schools that are just alike tend to be rivals. Think Army-Navy, Harvard-Yale, UNC-Virginia and NC State-Clemson. Similarly, schools that are cultural opposites love to hate each other. Clemson fans absolutely hate Duke and its elitist, intellectual, yankee students.
So where do Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College fit in? The Hokies are a geographic and cultural match. They also bring an existing rivalry with UVA. Miami has a bitter rivalry with Florida State, but what about anyone else? They aren’t near anyone or like anyone else. Sure, everyone loves to hate them, but there’s no basis for a mutual rivalry. Boston College, a northern Catholic school, brings no rivalries and little potential to build them.
Football
The Hurricanes and Hokies are both recent football powerhouses. Miami has won five national championships; they are blue bloods of the sport. Tech has been very successful in the past ten years, playing for the national championship behind Michael Vick in 2000. Unlike Miami though, Tech isn’t a consistent power. They have had a great ten year run, but their history pretty much begins there. It’s certainly possible that Tech will slide back to being an average college football program, much like Clemson and Georgia Tech.
Boston College has some football history, but it’s mostly an average program. Their only real contribution to football is that they are the twelfth team, so the ACC can field a conference championship game and, more importantly, collect a big TV payout.
Basketball
With the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech, the ACC, a conference built mainly on basketball is adding two football schools. Neither school fields terribly competitive basketball teams and neither seems inclined to change that.
By adding two weak programs, and third average one in BC, the ACC is diluting their product. Worse, having eleven or twelve teams makes it no longer feasible to play a full round-robin schedule. Each ACC team can’t play each other team twice a year. That means that fans at each school won’t get see some teams come and play on their floor. Some fans won’t get to yell at Duke; others won’t get to yell at UNC. The regular season champion might win that title by playing an easier schedule than the school that comes in second.
The ACC Tournament, the granddaddy of all conference tournaments will also undergo a face-lift. Instead of having just the one Thursday night game, the Les Robinson Invitational, there will need to be four Thursday games. That’s not so bad, I suppose, although I wonder how many fans will decide to skip those games and wait for Friday. And what fans will get tickets? Instead of slicing the arena nine ways, it’ll need to be sliced twelve ways. That’s significantly fewer tickets for each school, making the toughest ticket in sports even harder to get.
Scandal
It seems that part of the package of being a football power is controversy – arrests, fights, NCAA investigations. Virginia Tech and Miami bring all of that. Miami is one one of the most famous “bad boy” image programs around. They revel in their gangsta attitude and reputation. The Hokies may not have the same national rep as outlaws, but they too have had an alarming number of players arrested in recent years.
By embracing the idea of being a football conference, the ACC seems to be taking the chance of more scandal, not just by the new schools, but by the current members. If the existing nine want to keep up, they’ll need to continue to focus their efforts on building stronger football programs. Strong football programs tend to end up in trouble.
Academics
I’ll be the first to admit that the ACC is not an academic conference. It was put together for sports. The schools it includes though, happen to be very good academic institutions. Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, UNC and Wake Forest are all considered top national universities. Second to the ACC’s rep as a basketball conference is it’s rep as an egghead conference.
The new schools being added do little to help that reputation. Tech is a solid engineering school and Miami is a small, private school, but neither is a top 50 school. US News & World Report does rank Boston College at #40, so it has some merit. Overall, the three schools do more to water down the ACC’s academic reputation than enhance it.
Yeah, but…
Now in fairness, there are some positives to bringing in the new schools. The ACC is a much stronger football conference now and will get more national coverage. Miami and Florida State are nearly always in the national title hunt, and Virginia Tech has been in the hunt recently as well.
More than a grab for better football, the expansion was about money. The powers-that-be were looking to make more and avoid the risk of collecting less. That plan seems to have worked so far. Despite having to split the earnings twelve ways, it appears that conference will make more money off of its TV contracts. The new football contract will give each team roughly $700K more per year than the previous one.
I have many misgivings about the additions of the two and eventually three teams to the conference. They change the focus from basketball to football, they stretch the geographic boundaries, they don’t fit culturally and they make the league too big to continue to have a full round-robin schedule. To me, it’s a case of fixing something that wasn’t broken. By making such a monumental to change to a conference that has been so strong for so long, John Swofford and the university presidents are taking a great risk. Will the new superconference be as strong overall as the smaller conference was? It will make more money, but will it be as cohesive? Will fans continue to care as much as they have?
We’ll see.
For now though, I send a hearty welcome to the ACC’s newest members, Miami and Virginia Tech.