Stanford, Cal joining the ACC is ‘really thrilling,’ Tara VanDerveer says

Stanford, Cal joining the ACC is ‘really thrilling,’ Tara VanDerveer says

The pain of the Pac-12 breakup started to fade for Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer as soon as Stanford and Cal announced Friday that they would be joining the ACC next summer.

VanDerveer has been leading the prestigious Stanford women’s basketball program since 1985, coaching in the Final Four 15 times since then, and has become the all-time leader in women’s basketball victories with 1,186.

To see the Pac-12 fall apart over the last month was heartbreaking, she said Friday, but joining the ACC along with Dallas-based Southern Methodist will be more than just a consolation prize.

“To see something you’ve been a part of for 40 years fall apart in 40 minutes was incredibly painful, sad, angry, everything you can imagine,” she said by phone. “It’s just really, really hard. But the people at Stanford … have worked really hard to have us as coaches and student-athletes be able to land in a great place.”

ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said Friday that he expects the new alignment to include three or four East Coast trips each season for the Stanford and Cal basketball programs. Meanwhile, the 14 teams that are based on or near the East Coast will only have to travel to the Bay Area once every other year.

But jumping on a plane for six hours each way several times a year is worth it to VanDerveer, who praised the competition. “I can’t imagine that anybody could say there’s a better conference,” she said.

“We have great competition, and we will want to play West Coast competition in the preseason, and so we can sometimes keep some of our traditional rivals,” she said. “But then during the season to have new teams like North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Notre Dame all coming to Stanford — yeah, fans should be excited for all sports.”

The travel aspect might not be much of a factor for the coaches, but there has been some concern for the student-athletes, particularly considering the change in time zones and long hours in transit.

Ironically, it was Stanford that ran a 2011 study on the importance of quality sleep for student-athletes. A study of 11 men’s basketball players determined that extending their sleep to 10 hours a night resulted in faster sprint speeds, a 9% improvement in shooting percentage and improved physical and mental well-being.

Phillips said that ACC administrators spent most of the last six weeks trying to determine if the extra travel would be too much for student-athletes.

Mike Pawlawski, who quarterbacked Cal to a 10-2 record as a senior in 1991 and is now the Bears’ football radio analyst, said he feels for athletes in other sports who will have to deal with cross-country travel.

“I know how hard it is to travel in a charter,” he said. “For a track team, a soccer team, whatever, having to travel across the country (commercially) all the time … I really feel for our non-revenue student-athletes.”

Cal Chancellor Carol Christ said 19 of the school’s 30 teams ”will have their travel minimally or not at all affected” by the move, while a Stanford release said 22 of its 36 sports would see little or no impact. The ACC’s Olympic sports will continue to meet at a central location for competitions.

ACC football teams will only travel to the Bay Area once every other year. And while Cal and Stanford will have three or four trips to the East Coast each year, those schools expect to cut back on non-conference opponents that aren’t locally based.

For example, the Cal softball team usually plays four weeks of preseason tournaments, several of which occur on the East Coast. But coach Chelsea Spencer said they’ll probably stop doing that and instead play preseason tournaments on the West Coast.

“To give our West Coast families of student athletes a lot of time to see our athletes play,” Spencer said.

Then they’ll head to the East Coast for spring break, stay there for a couple conference games and return home.

“With taking those East Coast trips out, I think we’ll have to do two more trips out of the whole season,” Spencer said. “Not too bad, not too concerning.”

Cal also expects to use its winter breaks to limit difficult travel for student-athletes during the school year. Stanford will map out the schedule along with its quarter system to do the same thing.

VanDerveer said Stanford will try to play its regional games against Gonzaga and other nearby teams in November and December, then branch out to the East Coast for conference play later in the season.

“I think all the West Coast schools, knowing what the travel costs will be for everyone, they’ll want to play locally,” she said. “With wear and tear on your student-athletes, I would think they’ll want to play more regional games. And we’ll just flip-flop the time — play them in the preseason instead of doing it the other way.”

Outside of the offices of Stanford, Cal and the ACC, however, there was some skepticism over the practicality of the new alignment.

Longtime Division I men’s basketball coach and former NBA coach Rick Pitino earned some attention with this tweet on Friday: “It’s great that the ACC has added Stanford and Cal. I hear the Big East is looking to add teams from Panathinaikos & Olympiacos — it’s only a nine-hour flight.”

Some fans shared his concern.

Erik Holland, of Fremont, whose family has been Cal football season ticket holders since 1988, said he tries to travel to at least one road game every couple of years.

“Expecting us to fly to the East Coast is kinda a tall ask,” he said. “I think it’s going to hurt attendance at the home games, too. There’s less interest, not the kind of rivalries that we have on the West Coast.”

Jim Rutter is a fourth-generation Stanford alum who says he’s attended almost every home Cardinal football and men’s basketball game since 1967. Rutter said seeing Stanford join the ACC is “the best of bad options.” But he’s grateful that Stanford and Cal will remain in the same conference and preserve their storied football rivalry that dates back to 1892.

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Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton shared the sentiment that any home is better than none, quoting Wayne Gretzky by saying, “I skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”

Stanford and Cal alums on the East Coast had a good day on Friday.

Former NFL tight end Greg Baty, who played at Stanford in the 1980s, now lives in South Florida and admitted he stopped staying up into the East Coast morning hours for the Cardinal’s many late-night kickoffs, saying he was “losing faith” in the administration’s commitment to football.

But now?

“Because of this move, I am a Stanford fan again,” Baty said.

Correspondent Jeff Faraudo and staff writer Laurence Miedema contributed to this report.