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Stunned Wolfpack Fans React to ACC Tourney Cancellation

Anticipation over a quarterfinal showdown with Duke quickly turned into disappointment and in come cases, anger after the remainder of the ACC tournament was cancelled Tuesday

GREENSBORO — The stands in Greensboro Coliseum were empty, even emptier than they might have been had games been played there Thursday, about an hour after the ACC tournament was abruptly cancelled because of coronavirus concerns.

The only souls in sight were a pair of NC State fans sitting in the front row behind what would have been the Wolfpack's bench for its quarterfinal game against Duke.

It's not that Brett Waters and Steve Young had been left out of the loop and were unaware of the decision to pull the plug on the tournament. They just weren't ready to leave yet, still trying to grasp the unprecedented reality that this March, there's a different kind of madness in the air.

"It's surreal," said Waters, who traveled to the tournament from Monroe. "It's pretty sad on a Thursday afternoon to be tearing cameras and nets and chairs and everything down."

"We've sat through snow storms at State games where there's been 1,000 people in the stands and they didn't get cancelled," added Young, a Raleigh native. "This is just crazy."

Waters and Young were among the limited number of "essential tournament personnel, limited school administrators and student-athlete guests, broadcast television and credentialed media members” that would have been allowed in the building had the games been played.

For a brief moment Thursday, it looked as if they were going to get to see some basketball.

At about 9:30 a.m., ACC commissioner John Swofford held a press conference announcing that the games would be played as scheduled under the previously announced restrictions on fan attendance.

"I was pretty excited," said Young, who saw Swofford's announcement on the ACC Network's morning show with Wes Durham and Mark Packer. 

"I texted (Waters) and was like, 'they're playing.' We felt like today was pretty safe at that point since we were the early game. Then we got here ... and the players came out on the court (for warmups) and then it just got yanked away from us."

Less than two hours after his original announcement that the games would go on, after both the SEC and Big Ten canceled their tournament, Swofford reversed himself and pulled the plug on the ACC's event as well.

He made the announcement on the court, declaring top seeded Florida State as the official conference championship and awarding the Seminoles the trophy.

Waters said that while the coronavirus that led to all the cancellations was a concern, he believed the ACC's decision to stop its tournament was made for a different reason.

"Peer pressure," he said. "All the others were like 'we pulled it, so now you've got to pull it.'"

While Waters and Young were disappointed about the tournament not going on— especially because as Waters pointed out, the Wolfpack "has been playing pretty good ball lately"—other fans had a more emotional response.

Darren Nix of Garner said he was hurt and angry over the unexpected turn of events. And that was before the tournament was officially cut short.

Nix said he has been waiting five years for the ACC to return to Greensboro so that he could attend the event and cheer on the Wolfpack. He spent $800 on a pair of ticket books and took time off from work to attend.

Although he at least got to see State's 73-58 victory against Pittsburgh in its tournament opener Wednesday afternoon, it was small consolation under the circumstances.

"I haven't been able to go to the tournament for five years because it's been in New York and other places and now I'm not going to get to see the rest of the tournament," said Nix, a life-long Wolfpack fan who attended Jim Valvano's basketball camp and worked at Reynolds Coliseum as a youngster. "I'm pretty upset about it. It's frustrating. I think they're overreacting, really."

An ACC spokesperson said that fans like Nix will be able to get refunds for the price of their tickets through their original point of sale. Those who purchased their tickets through secondary outlets might not be as fortunate.

While fans might be able to recoup at least some of their money from the ACC's lost weekend, businesses in Greensboro and its surrounding area won't. It's estimated that upwards of $36 million in revenue will be lost by hotels, restaurants and other businesses because of fans leaving town early.

Because of that impact, league commissioner John Swofford was asked if Greensboro would be given priority in the scheduling of future ACC tournaments after this year's cancelation. The first available date is 2023, with next year's tournament set for Washington D.C. and the 2022 event in Brooklyn.

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"I don't know the answer to that. We haven't really discussed that," Swofford said. "On a personal basis, my heart bleeds for Greensboro.

"The decision that we have made will have quite an impact on this city, and this is where we were founded, this is where we live, this is where 27 ACC men's tournaments have been played and 20 or so women's tournaments, as well, and a lot of NCAA first and second rounds and even Final Fours. So there's a tremendous basketball history. This town loves the ACC. This town loves college basketball. So I feel for the impact on the city."

Young, sitting in the stands watching workers take down ACC signage from around the Greensboro Coliseum court, questioned whether the cancellations were necessary.

"I mean, everybody's here," he said. "There's a greater chance they're going to catch something at home than they they are in this arena. If you're already here, play the game. The kids, I'm sure, wanted to play."