Mother Nature gets playing time in Duke-UNC rivalry
College basketball fans will have to wait another week to see the next game in the sport’s most storied rivalry.
Duke’s game at North Carolina was postponed Wednesday and rescheduled for Feb. 20, at a time yet to be determined, after a snow storm mixed with ice prevented the Blue Devils from making it to the Smith Center.
The decision to halt the game wasn't made until about 3 ½ hours before the expected 9:10 p.m. start.
Brian Morrison, the ACC's associate commissioner for basketball media relations, said the ACC's policy, which is constructed and voted on by member schools, is that games will be played if the two teams, the officials and the host school's personnel in charge of game operations and the facility are at the arena.
The referees and UNC’s staff were en route to the Smith Center.
But Duke’s bus was unable to get to Durham in time to pick up the Blue Devils and take them to Chapel Hill, according to UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham.
“The safety of the teams and officials is the number-one priority, and this was the best decision to make at this time,” Cunningham said.
The game won’t be played Thursday because of the weather conditions, and Feb. 20 is the only date between now and the end of the regular season on March 9 that would keep both teams from having to play on back-to-back days. However, both UNC and Duke now will play four times in an eight-day stretch.
The schedule will be especially tough for the Blue Devils, who will play at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, face UNC on Thursday and then host No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The Tar Heels visit Florida State on Monday and will host Wake Forest on Feb. 22.
The Duke-UNC game wasn't the only weather casualty among ACC schools. Georgia Tech's game with Boston College in Atlanta was postponed until tonight. Unlike Duke-UNC, though, that decision was made around midday Wednesday when Georgia Tech alerted the ACC office that its staff wouldn't be able to travel safely to McCamish Pavilion.
The situation with Duke and UNC was different. Even though the area was under a state of emergency and UNC had cancelled classes through Thursday, the Smith Center crew was ready to work and the officials were in town.
At 3:50 p.m., UNC released a statement advising people to stay off the roads but stating the game would still take place as scheduled, provided that Duke could make it to the arena safely. UNC was going to allow students to walk in and fill the seats that couldn’t be used by ticket holders, and some undaunted fans had started walking or driving to the arena.
However, the decision to cancel the game was made after it became clear that Duke wouldn’t be able to make it.
“Everyone was on the same page — schools, officials, game administration — throughout the morning and early afternoon,” ACC Senior Associate Commissioner for Men's Basketball Karl Hicks said in a statement. “There came a time in the late afternoon discussions that travel and safety was beyond challenging and we were going to be unable to play the game. The decision was in total support by the ACC, Duke and North Carolina and was announced as soon as it was able to be properly coordinated."
The last time UNC had to postpone a game was in 2000, when 20 inches of snow forced a matchup with Maryland to be pushed back by a day.
The Tar Heels also rescheduled a game against N.C. State in 1991 because it coincided with the start of the Gulf War. That season, UNC played N.C. State in Raleigh and then played the rematch in Chapel Hill the next day. However, Cunningham said playing the UNC-Duke series on back-to-back days this year was never seriously considered, since both teams had an opening on Feb. 20.