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Cardiac Hill Q&A With The Tobacco Road Mayor

Pitt will face Duke as a member of the ACC in 2013-14 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Pitt will face Duke as a member of the ACC in 2013-14 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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I've been meaning to get to more of these ever since Pitt announced they were joining the ACC. But now that they have a formal agreement to get out for 2013, it's time to take a serious look at the move. I'm really intrigued by what fans of the current ACC institutions think of the additions of Pitt and Syracuse. Sure, we're pumped, but what do they think?

Weighing in first is the Tobacco Road Mayor - Ken, a big-time Duke Blue Devils fan, who runs the Tobacco Road Mayor blog. Definitely check out his site and also give him a follow on Twitter @TobaccoRdMayor

Okay, onto the Q&A.

Cardiac Hill: Pitt basketball fans are used to physical play in the Big East, obviously. How do you see their style of play in the ACC? In other words, do you think they'll need to adjust it or do you think the referees will allow them to play the same way they've been playing?

The ACC, as a whole, is more of a finesse league in comparison to the Big East. We have our battles and rivalries that can certainly get physical but it usually doesn’t turn into a Big East level brawl. I do see a slight adjustment to be necessary when Pitt and Syracuse venture on the road in the ACC, particularly against the Tobacco Road teams. You know, asking a Duke or UNC fan about officiating within the league is a little like asking Mitt Romney about capitalism - it’s working out okay for us! It’s a valid question of course but I can already hear the moaning from College Park and Charlottesville. In my opinion, Pitt and Syracuse will experience some growing pains when it comes to style of officiating.

So, since joining the ACC, we've heard a lot from fans of other ACC programs saying the conference revolves around Duke/North Carolina. True or false?

Even as an unobjective observer I have to agree with that assessment. This is relegated to basketball only though as it would be hard to make a case that Duke is receiving preferential treatment in football. The ACC has been top heavy for as long as most can remember. With the exception of Florida St. winning the ACC tournament last season, Duke or Carolina has taken that crown 36 of the last 48 years. By the way Heel fans, 19 of those went to Duke compared to your paltry 17. :) Billy Packer’s son, Mark Packer, maintains what is known as the Infamous ACC Index Card which tracks foul margins per team in the league. Basically it tells you how many times each team has been whistled for fouls vs. how many were called on their opponents. Duke and UNC undeniably enjoy a strong advantage almost every single year. Jim Boeheim’s comments about Greensboro likely won’t help the Orange cause during the next ACC Tournament.

More with the Tobacco Road Mayor after the jump.

I'm real curious to find out how Pitt and Syracuse are perceived from fans of current member institutions. When you heard the two schools were joining, what was your initial reaction?

Expansion is a necessary evil, unfortunately. If it were totally up to me, there would have been no more expansion of the ACC after Florida State and we would have never lost South Carolina. But competitively it simply had to happen. When we all accepted that and surveyed the landscape of possible incoming schools I think most were satisfied about Syracuse and Pitt being selected. The least appealing byproduct of expansion is the loss of yearly traditional matchups. Duke, UNC, NCSU and Wake all played one another twice each season. Now, the nation isn’t losing any sleep over not being able to watch Jeff Bzdelik face off against Mark Gottfried, but it’s still a big deal around here.

The ACC as a whole fancies itself as an "Academic" conference. Despite the academic scandals at FSU and UNC, the conference still thinks of itself as doing things the right way and bringing in legitimate student-athletes. Both Pitt and Syracuse are in the upper half of the Big East academically so again most were okay with those additions. This is another reason most are accepting of possibly adding Notre Dame to the mix in the future.

Also I would say it’s fair to say that for even those opposing expansion as a whole, the prospect of watching ACC teams invade The Zoo and the Carrier Dome is appealing.

Pitt's obviously had a strong basketball team over the past decade, but the football team has been up and down a bit. Are you happy with what Pitt and Syracuse add for football or do you think the additions are pretty minimal when looking only at the gridiron?

Despite this being a basketball-first conference, football dominates college athletics financially. Strengthening our impact on the national scene is something the ACC has struggled with over the last decade. Adding Virginia Tech and Miami was supposed to affect that tremendously but it hasn’t happened. The ACC has decent football top to bottom but is lacking the truly elite programs enjoyed by other major conferences and therefore suffers a general lack of respect nationwide. While Pitt has consistently reached bowl games, I’m afraid adding them and Syracuse only muddles up the middle of the conference even further. It will make for some interesting matchups but I’m not sure it has much of an impact on truly elevating the conference.

North Carolina aside, give me another ACC school that Duke fans love to hate.

This is easy for most Duke fans - Maryland. The rivalry, in basketball at least, has become particularly fierce in the last fifteen years. A lot of that was due to Gary Williams elevating Maryland’s program to the top of the ACC consistently and being the only true challenger to Duke and UNC’s throne over that time period. To be clear though, Maryland fans take it a little more seriously than Duke fans. There is a hatred both ways, but College Park has rioted in both wins and losses to Duke. There have been incidents of Duke parents being pelted with flying objects. Particularly brutal moments for Maryland were Jason Williams brings Duke back from a 10 point deficit (the "Miracle Minute") in about a minute and a half in College Park and Duke defeating Maryland in the Final Four in 2001 after going down by more than twenty points in the first half. That being said, the Cameron Crazies have recently taken to chanting "Not Our Rival" when the Terps come to town.

How much longer do you think Coach K sticks around?

That’s becoming an increasingly popular question around the league and nationally here of late. Coach K is 65 years old now but still seems to possess the fire and energy that enabled him to build the program. He says he feels great and expects to coach for "several more years" and we have no reason to believe that not to be accurate. Realistically I would say we can safely assume another five seasons. It should be noted, however, that Dean Smith retired rather suddenly and even quite close to basketball season which took many by surprise. Personally I’ve stopped worrying about when he might retire and am just enjoying the ride. That being said I’ve had my lawyer draw up the paperwork to make Coach K Day a semi-national (excluding Chapel Hill, NC, College Park, MD, Lexington, KY and Storrs, CT) holiday effective immediately upon his retirement.

Putting it nicely, Duke hasn't been all that good in football, of course. Are most fans okay with that given the excellent basketball tradition or do they want to see more progress in football?

The short answer to that is "No." Duke fans are sick of being the laughingstock of Division I football. This is evidenced in the budget allocated to finding a new coach when Ted Roof was fired. David Cutcliffe is a respected football mind and Duke took the leap in paying a legitimately competitive Head Coach salary with his hire. There are several projects and upgrades taking place to support the program. Most recently Duke completed the Pascal Field House - an 80,000 square foot indoor practice facility. There are ongoing fundraisers and efforts to completely renovate and modernize Wallace Wade Stadium. Although the coaching change and upgrades have yet to create much of a tangible impact in the win-loss column, most Duke fans feel we’re heading in the right direction.

As long as Florida State and everyone else stays put, do you think the ACC is actively continuing to look to expand or are they pretty content in your mind?

I think it’s inevitable that the ACC will continue to expand. I’m sure much of it is predicated on what happens elsewhere. There has been talk of Notre Dame being a potential member for a few years now but that’s of course complicated by their independent status in football and potential unwillingness to relinquish that. Additionally, if Notre Dame were to join it would then be necessary to add one more team to create and even number of teams. Regardless of which two teams it is, it seems likely the ACC will ultimately settle on 16 teams and will hopefully remain there for quite a while.

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