GREENSBORO — On overhead light poles, banners display the city’s self-proclaimed status. At the arena where the tournaments are being played, workers last week spread mulch around the trunks of one the trees on the property while trucks brought food, beverages and other supplies to be offered to fans and guests for the remainder of the week. Last-minute preparations were being completed ahead of the expected surge of fans.
Welcome back to “Tournament Town,” Greensboro’s time in the sports sun. After the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s tournament ends with its championship game on Sunday, the men’s tournament takes its place beginning on Tuesday. And when the men leave after the title game on Saturday night, the height of March Madness rolls onto center stage with the first two rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. But with all the excitement enveloping the city, this time, there’s a bit of concern about what the future holds — and what already is known — once the final buzzer sounds on March 19.
There’s no date set for the next time the ACC men’s tournament will visit the site, where it has been held 29 times, including the upcoming event. The News & Record reported last September that the city was guaranteed an ACC tournament between 2025 and 2034. The News & Observer of Raleigh reported on Wednesday that the league’s contract to hold the women’s tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum expires after this week and no site has been chosen for 2024.
Within the next few months, the conference offices will leave the home where it was founded in 1953, head down Interstate 85 and set up shop in Charlotte, the state’s largest city. And 2027 will be the earliest that Greensboro might host another NCAA regional, while the next two years will have Charlotte and Raleigh serve as sites. There is no North Carolina site in 2026.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan again presides over this year’s postseason party, and as the supreme host, she feels basketball has found its home again.
“I really think that this is the best place for tournaments because when you come to Greensboro, you are the event. You’re not sharing spotlights with other events,” Vaughan said. “I think it’s a great fan experience. We’ve always put on a wonderful Fan Fest. Downtown Greensboro gets involved. There’s free concerts for people when you come to Greensboro, you feel that we want you here and it doesn’t matter what team you play for.”
The men’s tournament went to Washington in 2021 and was held in Brooklyn last season, when Vaughan noticed on social media that there were people looking for Gate City Boulevard instead of Flatbush Avenue.
“I remember looking at Twitter feeds and people saying, ‘I wish we were in Greensboro.’ These are people from all over the ACC footprint,” she said. “I think they just feel like this is a good, neutral home, and it’s tradition. We’ve done it more than any other location. We’ve done it well.”
And Vaughan points with pride to the distinction of three straight weeks of championship hoop, which started on Wednesday.
“So, we’re the only city that has done that trifecta. And so this will be the second or third time that we’ve done it, and that takes a lot of work,” she said.
The mayor has a keen awareness of the effort that goes into staging premiere basketball events. Her father, Fred Barakat, an associate ACC commissioner and manager of the men’s tournament, made sure everything went without a hitch during his time with the conference. Vaughan had an up-close-and-personal view of what went into keeping the ACC tournament moving.
“They were great times because he took pride in the ACC and he wanted to make sure that he was going to deliver the best product that he could for those schools and their fans and their donor base because we know how important tournaments are (at) attracting their donors and keeping them re-engaged,” she said. “I know that he put a lot of time, but a lot of love into making sure that these things went well.”
But the next time conference employees get the Coliseum gussied up for the men’s tournament, they will be either commuting or finding hotel rooms in town. Last September, the ACC board of directors announced a unanimous decision to leave town.
“We wanted a home that had population size and positive growth trends, growth and diversity of population,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said at the time of the decision. “Access to a large international airport or hub airport with effective accessibility to and from all ACC member schools; anticipated benefit to the overall ACC brand; a forward-facing brand opportunity, marketing all of those things that have connectivity to it; and then synergies to existing and prospective partners in a variety of spaces, including the financial space, including corporate sponsorships.”
Vaughan characterized the decision to move as “a gut punch.”
“Obviously, I was very disappointed, for two reasons,” the mayor said. “One was personal, a huge personal disappointment. We were raised on ACC sports. We wore ACC everything that you can imagine and always talk the conference up. I know how much my father loved working for this conference. So in that respect, it’s been tough.”
Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan talks about a memory of her father during a former ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.
Phillips’ statement seemed to suggest Greensboro lacks the sizzle to provide the ACC what it needed, so the board said it was time to move. Vaughan said that when John Swofford retired as commissioner, she had a feeling that the league would start looking for a new home. Twice during a conversation with a visitor to her office, Vaughan made the point that Greensboro isn’t exactly a place to sneeze at.
“There were schools, coaches, who felt, and unfortunately, some of these presidents and chancellors don’t come into Greensboro and they don’t get to see what it is we have to offer,” she said, pointing to the Tanger Center as one example of what the city has done to enhance its image, along with restaurants, art galleries, public parks and boutiques. There’s also the significant historical moment of the city contained inside the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown.
“I don’t know that they really know Greensboro and, you know, Charlotte, obviously, is a national global brand and I think it was the new, shiny object.”
The city did what it could to keep the ACC offices in town, even offering to change the name of the arena to the ACC Coliseum. What was achieved, Vaughan said, was the establishment of a private jet service to bring the conference’s chancellors and presidents to Greensboro without their having to navigate schedules to book a direct commercial flight to the city. She expects the folks in Charlotte mined some of the ideas Greensboro came up with and will implement them there.
“I’ll tell you we put up a good fight and we made it hard for them ... I think we really raised the bar for them.”
And if the basketball events indeed become a little more scarce after this year, Vaughan said there will be enough to keep the city busy. She wants Greensboro to be the primary destination for youth sports organizations to stage their marquee events as has been done recently. The city has also hosted the U.S. Ice Skating Championships, and has been a long-time stop on the PGA Tour.
“We know that we have thousands of people who come for soccer, for track and field. It means we have great collaborations with North Carolina A&T to use their field,” she said. “We are looking at reinvesting in tennis. This past year, we had the AAU Junior Olympics. There were 18,000 athletes here in the city of Greensboro while the Wyndham (Championship) was going on.
“We are focused on making sure that we have our facilities where they need to be. We’re looking at a long-term plan, what can we do to keep our competitive edge compared to cities around us, and actually, other states.”
The games are underway. It’s heaven for the basketball junkies. But when it’s gone, a lot of pages will be torn from the calendar before it comes back. And it won’t be much longer before the home of the ACC loads some trucks and departs the city of its origin. Vaughan thinks the city will handle the changes just fine.
“Purely personal, being my father’s daughter, yeah, it’s sad,” she said. “Being mayor, I know that we got this.”
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