CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 07: Coach Steve Donahue of the Boston College Eagles calls a play for his team against the North Carolina Tar Heels during play at the Dean Smith Center on January 7, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 83-60. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
The WaPo's John Feinstein recently took a closer look at how ACC basketball has continued to slide in the post-expansion era in a recent column titled "Since expansion, the ACC has been merely another common conference in basketball."
Feinstein cutely interweaves quotes from college basketball coaching royalty about the current state of the conference's basketball product, including former Maryland coach Gary Williams, North Carolina's Roy Williams, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg and even commissioner John Swofford.
And while it is hard to argue with the premise of the article -- that ACC basketball has fallen from its perch as the standard-bearer of college basketball conferences -- Feinstein misses the mark as to the cause of the conference's basketball woes.
Forget for a moment that Feinstein uses two different time periods for comparison -- the 15 years leading up to expansion and the seven since. The reasons offered up as to why ACC basketball has slipped have been rehashed time and again: "if it ain't broke, why fix it?," negative recruiting from other conference programs stating that the ACC has become a "football league" and the death of the round-robin conference schedule.
All regrettable outcomes in the post-ACC expansion basketball world, yet all of these reasons fall short of the root cause of what ails the hoops conference.
Yet Feinstein was so very close, with the answer staring him right in the face.
After getting sound bytes from Gary Williams, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski, the root cause becomes pretty obvious, no? More than the death of the round-robin, the additions of the Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College basketball programs or any negative recruiting from other conferences claiming the ACC had become a "football conference" (which, as an aside, is laughable), the ACC's basketball woes can be attributed to one simple root cause: Athletic Directors with quick trigger-fingers.
If you need to point to the one single factor that has led to ACC basketball slipping from its spot as the top college basketball conference in the nation, look no further than stability at the head coaching position.
Feinstein cites the fact that the ACC had produced five National Championships in the 15 seasons leading up to ACC expansion, including 17 Final Four appearances (Duke 7, North Carolina 6, Maryland 2 and Georgia Tech 2). Since expansion, the ACC has made four Final Fours in seven seasons and have won three titles (2 by Carolina and 1 by Duke).
But consider the coaching turnover over the same period. From 1999-00 to 2003-04, the nine ACC programs enjoyed a period of great coaching stability. Those nine programs made just 14 coaching changes over the 15 year period. From the 2004-05 season onward, a span of seven seasons, the ACC's 12 programs have already made 11 coaching changes.
In the years post expansion, N.C. State, Virginia and Wake Forest have already made two coaching changes, the same number (or one more, in the case of Wake) than the previous 15 years in the pre-expansion ACC. Further, three-fourths of the conference has made a head coaching change in the last three seasons -- BC, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, N.C. State, Virginia and Wake Forest -- with only Duke's Krzyzewski, Florida State's Hamilton, North Carolina's Williams and Virginia Tech's Greenberg managing to hold onto their post every year in the post expansion ACC.
More than the individual programs added to the conference, more than the death of the round-robin and (definitely) more than the league's recent focus on bettering the football product, ACC basketball has slipped due to a high turnover rate for the conference's head coaches. Until the ACC starts to enjoy more stability at the head coaching position, the league cannot realistically expect to reclaim the top spot in the college basketball conference pecking order.