Brey a big fan of ACC move to NYC

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

Recruiting one day last fall in the New York metropolitan area, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was hit with a reality as he hustled to catch his train at Penn Station.

Brey glanced at the Madison Square Garden marquee on Seventh Avenue and realized that for the first time in his Notre Dame tenure, he wouldn’t return to the place dubbed the “World’s Most Famous Arena” for a conference tournament in the spring.

It left him a little sentimental and a whole lot hopeful that he again would coach a conference tournament game in the big city.

Once the Atlantic Coast Conference expanded last summer to include Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse before adding Louisville for 2014-15, many around college basketball circles knew what would come next — the league’s postseason tournament would slide out of North Carolina, where it has resided for 45 of the conference’s 61 seasons, and into New York.

On Wednesday morning, league commissioner John Swofford announced that the ACC tournament will be held at Barclays Center in Brooklyn for two seasons starting in 2017.

“You’ve got to get there (and) we’re there,” Brey said of playing the conference tournament in New York. “I give John Swofford a lot of credit. He knew we had to do it. It’s just got to be done.”

Brey had a strong sense that New York was inevitable when he participated last July in the league’s official expansion announcement. Heck, the event was held at the New York Stock Exchange. By the time the 2014 league tournament rolled around, it was pretty much understood that everything ACC was pointing to NYC.

“It’s great for the league; it’s great for Notre Dame,” Brey said. “If you’re going to be the deepest (basketball) league, you’ve got to play in that town.”

The ACC tournament has been played in seven different venues around 11 cities since 1954. It has traveled as far south as St. Petersburg, Fla., but never has been as far north as New York.

“Barclays Center has quickly emerged as one of the premier spots and entertainment venues in the world,” Swofford said at the morning press conference. “Brooklyn is a hot spot within the New York marketplace, which is an important part of our league’s new footprint.”

Notre Dame is 1-1 at Barclays Center, which opened in September 2012 at a cost of $1 billion. Appearing in the 2012 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, one of three in-season tournaments the building hosts, Notre Dame lost in overtime to Saint Joseph’s (Pa.), 79-70, before beating Brigham Young, 78-68.

“It’s one of the great new facilities with all of its bells and whistles and technology, the lighting,” Brey said. “All of the things are top shelf.”

Some are unique. At Madison Square Garden, teams walk into the building at ground level, and then are ferried five stories up to court level via an ancient freight elevator. At Barclays, team busses exit Dean Street and onto an elevator that takes them down three floors to the arena’s backstage/locker room area. The bus then pulls out onto what can best be described as a large turntable that is 80 feet in diameter. With the building’s basement space at a premium, the bus is unloaded before the turntable spins it back in the direction of the elevator, where it simply pulls forward and onto the lift for the ride up to street level.

“It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” Brey said.

Wednesday’s announcement means the ACC tournament will be held in three different cities in as many years starting next March. It will be in Greensboro, N.C., in 2015, in downtown Washington in 2016 and in Brooklyn in 2017. Greensboro Coliseum seats 23,300, Verizon Center 20,300 and Barclays Center 17,732.

The ACC wants to keep its Carolina roots for the league tournament, but Brey expects that once the league and some of its southern schools and fan bases experience all that New York offers — the people, the plays, the pulse — they’ll want more sooner than later.

“It’s such a change in culture to experience for a few days,” he said. “You pick up the energy of the city. It will be interesting to hear the feedback of other schools. I think they’re going to become addicted.”

Notre Dame’s first experience with the ACC tournament this month was brief. Seeded No. 13 in the 15-team tournament, the Irish played the tournament’s first game on the first day and lost to No. 12 seed Wake Forest. Despite the quick stay, the Irish were able to understand that the ACC tournament is treated far differently than what they knew during 18 years in the Big East.

The ACC tournament includes an open practice the afternoon before the first day of games. It’s also run more like the NCAA tournament with locker rooms open to the media after games. Unlike at the Big East, where schools are scattered about Manhattan at different hotels, many of the ACC schools stayed at the same Greensboro-area hotel as league media during the conference tournament.

Despite the short stay, Brey and his staff shared a common thought about their first tournament experience in Greensboro.

“It’s not New York,” he said.

The Irish finished 15-17, 6-12 in their first ACC season.

Wednesday’s announcement also included word that the ACC will play inter-conference doubleheaders with the Atlantic 10 at Barclays for three seasons starting in 2015 as part of the league tournament agreement. That means a future league vs. league matchup — Dayton vs. Notre Dame? Virginia Commonwealth vs. Notre Dame? — may factor into future Irish non-conference scheduling. That could impact Brey’s wishes to rekindle rivalries with former Big East schools Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova.

“I hadn’t heard that,” Brey said of the doubleheaders. “That’s interesting.”

The A-10 has held its conference tournament the last two seasons at Barclays and will continue the next two before the ACC arrives in 2017. The A-10 will return to Barclays in 2019.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey knew it was only a matter of time before the Atlantic Coast Conference moved its postseason tournament to New York City. The ACC will play its postseason tournament in Brooklyn in 2017-18. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)