AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Live, from Greensboro, it’s Saturday night.
Taking a page from the old Big East, the ACC will move its basketball tournament championship game from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night starting with next year’s tournament.
The new tournament format will run Tuesday through Saturday, with semifinals in prime time at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, and the championship tipping off at 8:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
“I think it’s a win-win all the way around,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said.
“Certainly having the prime-time slot is something that I think will enhance what we believe has consistently been, for many, many years, the best conference basketball tournament in the country.”
The ACC originally had its championship on Saturday from the inaugural tournament in 1954 through 1981. In 1982, the league switched to the Sunday afternoon slot it has occupied since.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he is excited about the change. The Panthers played in the same tournament format in the Big East until they left the conference last year, and won championships on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in 2003 and 2008.
“When you think of championships, you think of evening games in basketball, not afternoon games,” Dixon said.
Swofford said the former Big East members of the ACC — Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame — were “very positive” about making the change to Friday night semifinals and a Saturday night championship.
“All the Big East guys — there were only three in the room last year and this year we added a fourth in [Louisville coach] Rick [Pitino] — all talked about how the Friday night semifinals, then the crescendo on Saturday night in prime time was just so good for the Big East tournament,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
There are some tangible benefits, too, beyond just creating a better game-day atmosphere. The two teams that play in the conference championship will now have an extra day of rest before they begin play in the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA selection committee also will now have a full day to evaluate and seed all the ACC teams, rather than just a few hours after the conference title game ends.
“I think there’s something to [the extra day of rest],” Dixon said. “I think that, I think seeding for the NCAA tournament, getting teams in. I think that might be a positive. Small, but still I think it’s helpful in that regard.”
The move will also give the ACC a slightly larger platform for its showcase basketball event. The last Saturday night championship for the “old” Big East in 2013 (which was also the last year the game was televised on ESPN) between Syracuse and Louisville drew 3.4 million viewers. That year’s ACC title game on Sunday afternoon between Miami and North Carolina had only 2.2 million viewers, according to Sports Media Watch.
“One of the points that was made was that sometimes that championship game on Sunday becomes a little bit of an afterthought since everybody’s already focused on six o’clock and the selection show,” Brey said. “It kind of maybe loses a little bit of juice because the brackets definitely take over.”
The Big East still has its championship on Saturday night, as well, but the league’s new contract is with Fox Sports, rather than ESPN.
Next year’s ACC tournament will be in Greensboro, N.C., before the league moves the event to Washington for a year in 2016. After that, the tournament will make its New York City debut with the 2017 and 2018 editions at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I think [Saturday night] is great,” Dixon said. “I think it’s another step, progress for the ACC going forward, along with the different sites.”
If the ACC is trying its best to recreate the old feeling of the Big East championship Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, it’s starting to get awfully close.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.