The ACC’s winter meetings have come and gone, and spring meetings are on the horizon. If there’s one man to catch you up on the state of affairs in the ACC, it’s commissioner John Swofford, who just finished his 13th year in office. Swofford and I spoke Thursday afternoon about a variety of topics facing the ACC. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
First, let’s start with your overall take of how the conference fared this year according to your preseason expectations.
John Swofford: I thought it was an extremely competitive year within the league. With that much balance, I don’t think we were quite as deep as we were the previous year when we had 10 bowl teams. With Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech and Miami all in the same division, and being our three highest ranked teams generally throughout the season -- with Clemson coming on strong in the other division --those three sort of carried the banner so to speak for much of the year. We were certainly pleased with the progress made with our championship game and think we can continue to build on it as it comes to Charlotte. We had some very good nonconference wins that were significant. Hopefully it will continue to build as we look towards next year.
Fans and the media always want to compare conferences and rank them, debate which one is better. How much does the national perception of ACC football concern you?
JS: It doesn’t concern me. What our teams have to do is go out and continue to win games. I certainly think the commitment is there within our league at the institutions. I think we’ve got by and large excellent coaches. In time you just hope things will fall right. It’s cyclical to a degree. The thing we haven’t had for the past several years is a team or more involved in the national championship race, deep into the season. Three years ago Virginia Tech was No. 3 in the last BCS rankings. The more of that you have, I think the better your league is perceived, but anybody who follows college football also has a sense of the depth in the league and the evolving nature of the programs, but ultimately it comes down to winning high-profile games.
You mentioned the Coastal Division teams were the ones that carried the banner. I know the conference wouldn’t even consider realignment until after 2015, but how realistic is the possibility of that?
JS: The way college programs go, whatever your divisional split, you can have that at any given period of time. The SEC had it for a while with their East division and Georgia and Tennessee and Florida sort of dominated for a period of time, and the Big 12 has had it recently with the South as compared to the North. That just is something that when you have divisions can happen periodically.
What about the financial aspect of it -- having BC fly to Florida State -- are there any financial concerns that would have you guys consider doing something different, or is it just out of the question?
JS: We’ve had five years now. We’ll just have to see going forward. It’s certainly not a hot button issue right now. I don’t think anyone wants to react based on one division appearing to be competitively stronger in a relatively short period of time. Those things tend to balance themselves out over time. Whether or not there will come a time when we decide to look at it a little differently remains to be seen, but it’s not a hot button issue within the conference right now at all and I don’t think you can approach divisional play as a reaction to the strength of one division within a relatively short time frame.
You also mentioned the ACC championship game. ACC fans often wonder if Charlotte will be the final destination, or if the conference will continue to try other venues before deciding on a permanent spot.
JS: I think what we want to do now is get to Charlotte, have that experience and then evaluate whether we view that as a longer term home for the championship game or not. The pluses are numerous in terms of Charlotte from the quality of the stadium and the location downtown. It’s a very vibrant city full of energy and in the geographic center of our league with eight schools within 300 miles of the city. The city seems to be very strongly behind the game itself. What we need to do is be there and experience it. I don’t think anything would please any of us more for that to turn out to be the home of the championship game, but we’ll have to evaluate that as we go.
You know Florida State and Miami are going to play in the championship game this year, right?
JS: (He laughed.) Well, they could.
Those teams would pack a stadium no matter where it was.
Stay tuned for Part II.