Q&A with ACC commish John Swofford

The ACC finished 2010 with a 4-5 record in its bowl games, and four teams ranked in the Top 25. There were highlights and lowlights, and ACC commissioner John Swofford gave his thoughts on the overall state of the conference and this past football season in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What was your final take on the ACC championship game, the attendance, and the site?

John Swofford: We had a terrific first year in Charlotte. It certainly gives us a great foundation to build on in the future. Attendance was outstanding. We basically had a sellout even though the weather was not the best in the world. The events surrounding the game were superb. Everything about it, from the legends weekend, the outreach initiatives we had in the Charlotte area were excellent. We had the best presale we’ve had for any of our championship games. We were about 30,000 before the teams were announced. We want to build on that. That’s really key to developing that game at any site. We were just extremely pleased with the championship game. I think it was without question the most successful one we’ve had -- great atmosphere, full stadium, and I think fans had a terrific experience as well as the teams.

Given the success it had, then how seriously would you consider moving it to another site?

JS: We have contractually one more year in Charlotte. Once we’ve had two years to experience Charlotte, we’ll make a determination with our schools with what we do in the future. If the second year is successful as the first, I would think it would be likely we’ll stay in Charlotte.

Overall, when looking at the nonconference wins and losses and the bowl record, how would you describe the overall strength of the league compared to others in 2010?

JS: I think again this year our strength was the depth that we had. That’s been our strength over the last several seasons. We didn’t have a team in the thick of the national championship race. That’s a step that would help us tremendously as we look forward to the future. We played some very good teams through the year. There’s no question our teams are stepping up and playing quality opponents outside the league to give us opportunities. Unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of as many of those opportunities as we would’ve liked during the course of the regular season. We were right at about 60 percent against nonconference opponents, but the thing I think held us back some perceptually is we had a number of close games -- Boise State, LSU, Auburn -- that could’ve gone either way that did not go our way. In order to take that next step, we need to win our share of those kinds of games.

Do you think that so much turnover in the ACC in the coaching ranks is making that difficult to do?

JS: That makes a difference, there’s no question, particularly in the sport of football. Sometimes it takes a while to rebuild a football program based on the sheer numbers that are involved. And we’ve had turnover in recent years. You look at Butch Davis and Tom O’Brien, and their tenure is beginning to look long in our league. There’s a lot of freshness, a lot of new coaches who are still early in their tenures. Hopefully with longevity and stability those programs will grow and develop. I think you see some other situations with Jimbo Fisher who stepped right in and obviously a great deal of progress was made in the first year with them getting into our championship game and winning the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Because of the BCS record the ACC has (2-11), is there any concern of the ACC losing its automatic tie-in with the Orange Bowl?

JS: Obviously we need to win more of those games, but in terms of the BCS AQ situation, the depth of our league helps us considerably. That’s taken into account. It’s not just your highest ranked team. They look year in and year out at the entire conference. We did finish with four teams in the top 25 at the end. That’s certainly a positive. We were 2-0 against the SEC in bowl games at the end was a positive. There’s certainly some pluses there to build on.

I get asked this question almost every week in my chat or mailbag: Are there any major changes expected in the near future regarding either conference realignment or expansion?

JS: No. I don’t anticipate that. I think what we’ve found in terms of the expansion issue last summer with a number of things that went on across the country, and very thorough discussions and evaluations within our league with presidents and athletic directors, the preference was to stay at 12 and the 12 we are. We found a certain solidarity within our league that has been developed since we went to a 12 member conference. I think looking back and seeing some of the things that have happened in the landscape and potentially could still happen, our going to 12 has given us the kind of stability we felt like we needed moving forward. In terms of any alterations of the divisions, our schools seem to be happy with the divisions as they currently exist. We periodically step back and take a look at those kinds of things, but the last discussion we had within the past year indicated a comfort among our schools with the divisions that are now set up.

Well congratulations on not calling them Legends and Leaders.

(He laughed).

Stay tuned for Part II with the ACC boss.