Updated at 4:45 p.m.:
GREENSBORO — Tournament Town signs are still scattered here and there throughout the city. The sky walk bridge over Friendly Avenue downtown still wears its festive “Fans First” wrap.
Remnants of the basketball tournament that never ended, only stopped.
The 67th ACC Tournament lurched to a premature halt on a fateful Thursday afternoon in March as the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation and swept away sports as we know them.
But now, the tournament is coming home.
The ACC announced this morning that the 2023 men’s basketball championship will be played March 7-11 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“It’s been a strange eight weeks or so,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “We’ve been looking for some good news all these weeks. We did a great job under the circumstances, and I think the ACC saw that. Now we’ve got a new opportunity to shine again.”
It’s the earliest the tournament could return. The next two ACC Tournaments were already awarded to Capital One Arena in Washington next year and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2022.
John Swofford, the ACC commissioner, made the final call to cancel this year’s tournament March 12. It’s the first time in the league’s history that its marquee event was canceled.
“One of my most immediate thoughts was the tournament needed to come back here ASAP,” Swofford said. “We were already committed to Washington and Brooklyn, but Greensboro deserved to have this back as quickly as possible.
“Fortunately our schools, our ADs, our faculty reps all agreed with that and also agreed to push forward in an expedient way to get the decision made sooner than normal. We were able to get that done. I’m very pleased for Greensboro, very pleased personally because this is our home.”
Swofford spoke by phone from the study in his Greensboro home. The ACC headquarters at Grandover closed for the pandemic, its staff working remotely like many Americans.
Swofford can’t shake the hollow sadness from that final day at the Coliseum, when regular-season champion Florida State was awarded the league’s trophy in an odd ceremony, disappointed players gathered on the court.
“When I was standing on the floor of the Coliseum, announcing that our tournament this year was not going to go forward, it was such a huge disappointment for the players and the fans, and for everybody associated with the tournament,” Swofford said. “… That tournament is just really special to all of us in this league. And it’s the same with the city of Greensboro. That was a surreal moment. You can never imagine being in that situation.
“Even though it was absolutely the right decision, given the circumstances, my heart bled for Greensboro. Because I know the history and tradition of the tournament here, and I know how important it is on so many levels to the city. This is our home city, where we live, where the league was founded. So it hurt even more than it normally would have.”
Getting the tournament back in three years only means everything.
“It was great medicine,” Coliseum managing director Matt Brown said. “To hear it is so uplifting, to have positive news in light of the circumstances we are all living under today. It couldn’t be any better medicine for Greensboro, having jointly experienced with the ACC the impact of the cancellation of the tournament.”
The Coliseum has been dormant throughout the pandemic shutdown, although Brown still goes to his office daily to sort out rescheduled events and plan future projects.
Brown said the city owes Swofford a debt difficult to repay.
“I believe this was John Swofford’s personal efforts leading the way on our behalf,” Brown said. “That effort to get Greensboro awarded the ’23 tournament, so we didn’t have to wait until ’24 at the earliest. I commend the commissioner. I personally witnessed how bad he felt that day. He understood the impact the cancellation would have on Greensboro. … His personal advocacy got us this relief, and I think people in Greensboro will feel appreciative of his efforts.”
This March, Greensboro was set to host college basketball tournaments in three consecutive weeks: the 28th ACC Women’s Tournament, the 67th ACC Men’s Tournament, and first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games.
Brown hopes for a repeat in 2023.
“We have submitted a request for NCAA Tournament dates for ’23 through ’26,” Brown said. “My personal belief is … you would think the NCAA would award all the sites that had lost dates in ’20 with new dates in ’23. If it goes that way, that would put us in a position to do the trifecta again. That would really help our community recover.”
There have been more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, more than 58,000 deaths.
Swofford does not regret the decision to cancel the ACC Tournament after six games. He knows the hollow feeling was necessary.
“The pain of this is real, but everyone is going through bigger issues now,” Swofford said. “This is a bit of good news, and it’s good to have this out in front for Greensboro to look forward to with certainty. One of the tough things about the world right now is there’s so much uncertainty in front of us. This needed to be done. And it needed to be done quickly.”
And it was done before all the signs from the tournament that never really ended could be taken down.
Posted at 11:45 a.m.
The ACC men's basketball tournament, canceled for the first time in its history before the quarterfinal games in March, will return to Greensboro in March 2023.
The 2023 tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum will give the city a chance to host again after the event was stopped March 12 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold and change life in the United States.
“The partnership between the ACC and the city of Greensboro is extremely special, and one that has spanned nearly seven decades,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. “The decision to bring the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament back to the Greensboro Coliseum was the right thing to do and we look forward to returning in 2023.
"We also appreciate the annual hospitality shown to our teams, schools, alumni and fans while hosting the ACC Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, the ACC Women’s Basketball Championship and the ACC Women’s Golf Championship.”
Greensboro and the Coliseum will host for the 28th time, more than any city in league tournament history. But the city's role as host in 2020 was considered an important audition in a changing sports landscape and for a league with 15 universities, 11 of which are in states outside of North Carolina, and with a majority of athletics directors having been hired after the tournament's previous visit in 2015.
The 2023 tournament dates will be March 7-11.
The 2021 tournament, in Washington at Capital One Arena, and the 2022 event, in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, had already been awarded.