Sunday, March 24, 2013

UNC Bias Or Just A Bad Baseball Decision?

Bad weather is part of baseball. Ideally you want to play every game on the schedule, but sometimes Mother Nature intervenes and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Then again, maybe you can. North Carolina was scheduled to play Boston College a three-game series this weekend at BC’s Eddie Pellagrini Diamond. With the field already saturated by several major snowstorms, and with cold, rain and possibly more snow in the forecast, the Atlantic Coast Conference intervened and moved the series to Chapel Hill.

In so doing, the conference opened Pandora’s box. There is a perception around the ACC, fair or not, that the league office has a strong bias towards the University of North Carolina. The perception is largely nonsense, but it’s not without foundation.

ACC commissioner John Swofford graduated from UNC, class of 1971. He was quarterback on the UNC football team from 1969-71 and was in the UNC athletics administration from 1976-97, the last 18 years of that time as the Tar Heels’ very effective and very influential athletics director. In addition, the conference has more than its share of UNC graduates in the executive offices.

However much ACC officials wish to protest accusations of UNC bias, moving the Carolina-Boston College series to Chapel Hill only feeds the perception that the league will do whatever it has to do to protect the Tar Heels, even at the expense of the rest of the conference.

No one questions that the field at BC was unplayable. Eddie Pelagrini Diamond is borderline unplayable when it’s bone dry. Ice and mud only complicate an already bad situation. That’s not the point. The point is fairness. What is the justification for moving the series to Chapel Hill, and will the same justification be used the next time a series at BC is threatened by weather? And make no mistake, every series at Boston College is a threat to be affected by bad weather.

Clemson goes to BC the weekend after next, March 29-31, and NC State will be there the weekend after that. What happens if another major storm hits New England the week preceding one of those series and dumps 6-8 more inches of snow in the Boston area? Don’t think for a second that it couldn’t happen. It could happen in May. Will the conference approve moving either of those series? How can you justify moving the UNC series because of the weather but not subsequent series that face the same unplayable conditions? At the same time, how many of Boston College’s home series can you move before it becomes a competitive disadvantage for the Eagles?

Don’t look now, but even if this situation doesn’t arise again in 2013, the chances of it happening in the future increase significantly a year from now when Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Louisville join the ACC. Admittedly, all three of those schools have vastly superior facilities than BC and are therefore better equipped to deal with something like this, but those three newcomers all will bring serious winter-weather issues to a league used to warm weather by late March.

Word is that most of the league’s coaches were unhappy at the decision to move the UNC-BC series, and justifiably so. With North Carolina off to a torrid start and sitting atop the national polls, it seems like piling on to give the Tar Heels an extra home series.

Looking at the big picture and not focusing on either UNC or BC, the smart move would have been either to find an alternate site in the Boston area or, failing at that, let nature take its course. That’s baseball. 
The ACC opted instead to focus on the smaller issue of this one series and let the genie out of the bottle.

If the people in the ACC office seriously want people to believe they’re not biased towards UNC, then there’s only one way to deal with this issue once it arises again, especially if it arises again in 2013. We’ll see if that happens. In fact, we’ll be watching very closely.

Addendum: William & Mary and Northeastern played a three-game series this weekend, at Northeastern's Friedman Diamond in Boston. Meanwhile,

the final game of the BC-UNC series in Chapel Hill was rained out. 

Talk about irony. Friedman Diamond's surface is field turf, whereas Pelagrini Diamond's surface is natural. But that's another issue for someone else to consider.

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