NCF Nation: John Swofford
Georgia Tech also has an opportunity to make a statement against Mississippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl. I had a chance to catch up with ACC commissioner John Swofford to ask him for his thoughts on how the playoff process worked out for the ACC and the Seminoles.
AA: How do you feel about the job the selection committee did with unbeaten Florida State?
Would you have preferred to see Florida State in New Orleans?
JS: Well, I think for their fans, certainly. But at the same time, they’ve had a recent very positive experience in Pasadena in the Rose Bowl stadium. That won’t be foreign to them.
Should they be No. 1?
JS: I don’t know. I’ll refrain from commenting on that. Everybody has their biased opinion as to who should be 1 or even who should be 4 or 5 or 6 for that matter, so anybody who’s a commissioner comes from a biased point of view.
Is it a sign of disrespect to the ACC that unbeaten Florida State isn’t No. 1?
JS: I don’t know. They’re in the playoff, they should be in the playoff. As I said, commissioners are going to have their biases as to where their teams should be ranked. I’m not going to get into that any deeper than I’m pleased they’re in the playoff. I don’t think there’s any reason to get into the particulars of that at this point. The committee is charged with a responsibility of doing those ratings, and we’ll let it go at that. What matters now is to play well.
What, if anything, would you change about the process?
JS: I’m sure there will be things to be discussed on reflection, once we’ve had more time to sit down and digest both the process from start to finish and as well as the end result. I think that’s to be expected the first year.
One topic that has been debated is the role of conference championship games. Should the Big 12 have a championship game?
JS: I think that’s for the Big 12 to decide. I’ve been one that has been pushing for conference autonomy for the conferences to have the ability to determine, regardless of how many numbers of teams they have in their league, whether they have a conference championship game or not, as well as if you have one, how you determine which of your two teams play in that game, so I continue to be in favor of that, and I know Bob Bowlsby continues to be in favor of that as well.
What do you think about the Orange Bowl matchup and the last-minute switch with Mississippi State making it in over Michigan State?
JS: I think it’s a terrific matchup for Georgia Tech and the Orange Bowl. It’s an excellent one that we’re pleased with, and very pleased with that arrangement with the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame. I was a little surprised at the switch considering neither team played, but either one would be an excellent matchup for us.
Is this a stronger year for the ACC than last year?
JS: Yes I do [think so] up to this point. We finished in the bowl season well last year with a national championship and an Orange Bowl championship and hopefully we can do something similar. We’ve got 11 bowl teams again this year on top of last year, and certainly the regular season and particularly the end of the regular season, the last weekend, was very positive for our league, and that’s on top of some really quality high-profile wins over Southern Cal, over Ohio State, and so I think last year was a very good step forward for our league competitively and from a respect standpoint, and I think this year has added to that. We’ve built on that. It’s important that we continue to have that kind of consistency. It’s the competitiveness within the league, the addition of Louisville and the quality of nonconference wins this year have been extremely positive for ACC football.
Having said that, how important is it for a good showing in playoff and Orange Bowl to feel this season was better?
JS: That would add to it. At this point in time, we’re ahead of where we were last year as a conference. I don’t think there’s any question about that, with a similar postseason that would take it another step.
But if FSU and Georgia Tech lose, would this year be viewed as a step back?
JS: You’d like to do the same thing again, but each year is going to be a little different. There are going to be two of those four teams that lose in the playoffs. If you win and get to the national championship, that’s just another level of success, but being one of the four is a tremendous accomplishment for any program in any league as well.
Nine flat-screen televisions are mounted along a wall. Computer monitors and hard drives are arranged around the front of the room. In the back of the room, a long table sits on a raised step. Remote controls are carefully set one next to the other at one end.
At the other, commissioner John Swofford sits in a black swivel chair, quietly watching nine league schools play on the second-to-last Saturday of the season. Swofford has company in the ACC Game Day Operations Center.
Michael Strickland, senior associate commissioner for football operations, is there. So is an ACC video coordinator and an ACC replay official, whose job is to help monitor calls made in the various games.
Each game is recorded, and interns log video and data for each penalty and replay review so coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads can go through and produce a training video for all officials and coaches by 6 p.m. Monday.
There would be one non-call in particular Saturday that would become the talk of the day -- and prompt an automatic review Sunday.
But before that play happens, four 3:30 p.m. games kick off while Wake Forest and Virginia Tech play into overtime. Swofford monitors them all, and jokes that you need "agile eyes" to pay attention to all the screens -- four smaller televisions on each side flank a big screen.
He comes into the operations center four to five times during the football season when his schedule allows because it is the perfect spot to watch multiple games.
It is all business inside the room, mostly quiet save for the television announcers and interns yelling out scores from the games they are monitoring. When the Boston College-Florida State game kicks off, it goes up on the big screen.
The league needs Florida State to keep winning to keep its College Football Playoff chances alive, but nobody is rooting on the Seminoles -- Boston College is an ACC team, too. So everybody watches the tight first half in near silence.
Swofford has not spoken much publicly about unbeaten Florida State and the way the selection committee has chosen to rank the Seminoles No. 3, behind two one-loss teams. At halftime, he moves to a different room to give his thoughts, carefully choosing his words to avoid saying too much.
"What matters is at the end, and what it looks like at that point in time," he said. "I’m totally biased, and the committee is supposed to not be. I would put them first, but with the chair that I sit in, that’s a biased opinion. But you are talking about the defending national champion that’s won, at this point, 26 games in a row, and ultimately what matters is do you win or not? I think that’s extraordinarily important in all of this."
Is Florida State being judged more harshly than teams from other conferences?
"I’m not going to answer that right now," he said. "I’m not one to judge processes in the middle of the process. Let’s see how the season plays out, let’s see where things are at the end and listen to the explanations as to why, and get the first year under our belt. It’s a committee with enormous football experience and a lot of responsibility with only four teams to make good judgments, and I tend to want to see the end result based on the entire season and see what that looks like, because there will be things that happen on the field that we don’t anticipate. That happens almost every year late in the season."
The way the committee has publicly released its rankings each week has also drawn recent scrutiny. Swofford, who sits on the management committee, said that is a topic that should be revisited in the offseason.
"There was a lot of discussion and different opinions about when to start the rankings and how often to release them. Once it’s all done and we move past that first championship game, the management committee as well as the selection committee will have some conversations and take a look at what worked and is the process what we want? Was it effective? And if not, how do we need to change it?"
Swofford pushed hard for a playoff, although he probably never guessed an unbeaten team from his league would be so devalued during the process. He does not answer that question directly, reiterating that he wants to see how the rankings play out. "We all want what we feel like is best for our particular team," he said.
While Swofford talks, the third quarter resumes in Tallahassee. In that quarter, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston attempts to shove an official out of the way so his team can go hurry-up, a move that draws widespread national interest. Winston was not flagged for making contact with an official, and play continues.
Swofford retreats back to the operations center. A few phone calls come in asking for clarification on what happened. The ACC replay official is noncommittal when asked whether a flag should have been thrown. On Sunday, Rhoads issued a statement saying the game official believed the contact to be "incidental."
Two games go down to the wire: BC-FSU and Louisville-Notre Dame. The games alternate on the big screen. When Roberto Aguayo sails his field goal through the uprights to give Florida State its 27th straight victory, nobody reacts outwardly. Swofford leaves a short time later, bidding everyone farewell.
Although nobody will say it, there has to be relief Florida State did not bid its own playoff spot farewell.
"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."
Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.
"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.
"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."
Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
- Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
- That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
- That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
- Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
- Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
- There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
- Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.
All those years of BCS misery? Almost like they never happened. Losing bowl record last season? Forgotten. How about that losing record against power-five conference teams? Nope, not going to talk about that. Because the ACC is now home to the national champions, and everybody in the ACC did their best to remind us all over two days.
“Go Noles!” he shouted.
Anybody think Coach K shouted, “Go Heels!” when North Carolina won its national title a few years back?
The dynamic in football is obviously different. There are rivalries, yes, but there also is a brotherhood among these coaches, steeped in their determination to make the ACC shed its “basketball conference” label. They have all shared in the pain over the past 10 years, watching the SEC exert its dominance while the ACC was left to answer questions about why it was always a step behind.
They all promised their day would come, selling the league hard to anybody who would listen. Jimbo Fisher has been one of their loudest defenders, his stock line: “There is really good football in this league!”
People used to roll their eyes. But now, finally, there are believers. Finally, the national conversation has flipped from, "Who can take down the SEC?" to "Who can take down Florida State?"
Without a doubt, the ACC deserves this moment. Winning national championships should come with a shot of confidence and an infusion of new energy. So what if it felt like some of the coaches were reciting a list of carefully scripted, neatly orchestrated talking points? Talking points, by the way, that John Swofford recited in his Commissioner Forum media event, perhaps hoping to set the tone for the Kickoff.
Every league coach should revel in the victory. They should use those talking points on the recruiting trail. Do you want to play against the best? Well, the best is right here, in the ACC.
Now, one championship does not make a league, nor does it change the perception that the ACC is not yet among the top three conferences in the country. There has to be consistency. The SEC did not earn its reputation based on one national championship alone, or one team alone carrying the flag for the conference.
Everybody else in the league needs to step up their level of play. Everybody else in the league needs to start winning its elite nonconference matchups. A national championship, a BCS bowl win, and 11 bowl teams are obviously a terrific start. But it cannot end there.
All this bravado and swagger need to be translated into results on the football field. Confidence needs to be channeled into momentum. Having bragging rights now is great. But the ACC knows it has to find a way to hang onto those bragging rights, so that every year it can beat its chest just a little bit louder.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- ACC commissioner John Swofford is confident a proposal granting the Power Five conferences more autonomy will pass when it comes up for a vote next month.
Last week, the NCAA announced its board of directors will decide on Aug. 7 whether to accept the proposal, aimed at allowing the larger conferences the ability to make decisions that benefit their athletes and institutions. Athletic directors and athletes would have more say in governance as well, two key factors in the proposed changes the ACC has supported.
Speaking at the start of ACC media days Sunday, Swofford admitted the proposal is not perfect, but it does more than enough to get much-needed changes implemented.
To read the rest of this story, click here.
The league unveiled a redesigned logo on Thursday, the centerpiece of a rebranding effort made with its new membership and recent expansion in mind. In its news release, the ACC describes the new look in this way:
Set in a custom-designed font created specifically for the league, the logo leans forward toward the conference’s ever-present goal of excellence. The lettering is accentuated by a bold, silver underline that symbolizes the ACC’s journey toward a bright future.
“With the recent expansion of our league and the addition of Louisville on July 1, it seemed a natural time to update our brand. We feel that it well represents the high standard and values the ACC has held for more than 61 years.”
The CCA, a 32-member panel of Division I conference commissioners, governs the letter-of-intent program. An early signing period is on the agenda for its June meeting. The ACC wants the early signing period to begin Aug. 1.
League coaches have been particularly outspoken about the need for players to sign early.
"There's a lot of young men who commit early that would like to get it over and this is where they've wanted to go," NC State coach Dave Doeren said. They have no need to drag it out or have distractions in their life. And for us, just a way to know who's actually coming for sure and where we can use our resources to go recruit other players."
Here are a few other notes as the ACC spring meetings wrapped up Thursday:
- The ACC will have an eighth official on the field during conference games beginning this season, following the lead of the SEC and Big 12. The official will be in the offensive backfield.
- On the topic of an ACC Network, Swofford said the earliest potential launch date is still several years away. And he will be watching closely to see how the SEC Network fares. "It’s a big undertaking, and as ESPN and the SEC have found, they’re launching this year and they’ve been working at that for three years," he said. "We have those discussions and have had those discussions going on. I don’t know that there will be a lot of news along the way until we reach a point where, together, we are ready to announce a decision whether we do it or don’t do it."
- On the topic of the ever-expanding bowl field, Swofford said, "I think it depends on where you sit. There’s conferences that have created some new bowls [that] feel that’s really important for their programs and their players. Hopefully they’ll all be successful, but it’s an awfully lot of bowl teams to have to have eligible."
- While it seems clearer than ever autonomy will be given to the Power 5 conferences to make choices that best fit their needs, there is now a debate about whether a supermajority vote should be required to enact legislation. Swofford does not have a position yet on whether requiring a supermajority is a good idea. "The things that are in autonomy are important issues and particularly those directly involving the student-athletes going forward and something of that importance needs a significant level of buy-in. Of the 80 votes, you’ll have 15 student-athletes voting. When you start looking at percentages, you need to look at the number of institutional votes it would take to pass something, whether it be a supermajority or simple majority. ... On the one hand, there needs to be significant support for autonomy issues. On the other hand, you don’t want it to be so high that the system is ineffective in bringing about change. That’s one reason for the continued discussion period. Hopefully in the end, we’ll hit the sweet spot."
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- The dysfunction that greeted the ACC during its spring meetings over the past several years was replaced with an odd feeling this time around, a sense that even commissioner John Swofford noticed as he looked across the room.
All 15 schools represented in these meetings are league members moving forward, giving the ACC added momentum as it heads into a new era in college football. Perhaps that is why it was so easy to come to a scheduling decision that had been years in the making. There are no more doubts, no more questions about where this league is headed.
Aside from the lingering question about legislation to change how conference championship games are governed, this league has set its course into the future, a course it believes will allow its teams to thrive and contend for national championships.
“That course means staying with eight league games, but adding a requirement that all schools must play at least one power-five opponent per season. That course meant minimal discussion on changes to divisions in order to see how the current scheduling model plays out. That course meant focusing on the future, and building off the football success the ACC had a year ago.
We have a lot of momentum from a league standpoint and specifically a football standpoint. It makes a world of difference to win a national championship, but along with that to have Clemson beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. ... The national championship was terrific, but that additional win over Ohio State really complements the national championship aspect of it, and having 11 bowl teams.” -- ACC commissioner John Swofford
Indeed, the league went into these meetings facing all these critical decisions. There almost seemed to be a requiem for change, with the College Football Playoff coming, strength of schedule taking on greater importance and general unease about cross-divisional scheduling. The ACC could have radically changed. Instead, it opted to stay the course.
Who can blame the league, really? What the ACC did last season worked, as Florida State won a national championship and Clemson made the Discover Orange Bowl. A five-game scheduling partnership with Notre Dame will only enhance schedules in the ACC. There was no real need to change.
Not yet, anyway.
“We have a lot of momentum from a league standpoint and specifically a football standpoint,” Swofford said Thursday as the spring meetings wrapped up. “It makes a world of difference to win a national championship, but along with that to have Clemson beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. We spent some years not doing well in the BCS and we finished with three straight wins in our BCS games. The national championship was terrific, but that additional win over Ohio State really complements the national championship aspect of it, and having 11 bowl teams.”
Now comes the wait-and-see approach on multiple fronts. The ACC and Big 12 have submitted legislation to the NCAA, asking that leagues with 12 teams and two divisions no longer be required to hold conference championship games. An answer is expected in August, and Swofford believes the legislation will pass.
But that does not necessarily mean the ACC will change its championship game setup. Views are mixed among athletic directors on whether the current division champion model should be kept in place, or whether divisions should be scrapped entirely to create opportunities to play league opponents more frequently and have its two best teams play for the league title.
“I don’t think people should necessarily interpret our pushing this forward to mean we’d definitely change what we’re doing but it would give us the flexibility to,” Swofford said. “If that occurs, we’ll have a thorough discussion about it.”
So why push forward legislation at all?
“As much as anything, it’s the principle of the thing,” Swofford said. “We feel conferences should have the freedom to make that decision.”
The league also must take a wait-and-see approach on how the College Football Playoff committee ends up evaluating the strength-of-schedule component. Will eight league games plus one nonconference game against a power-five team be viewed as challenging enough when it comes time to selecting the top four teams?
“That remains to be seen,” Boston College athletic director Brad Bates said. “We’re entering in the first year of the playoffs and we’ll see what is rewarded ultimately on the back end of it, and I think that’s going to shape people’s philosophy on how they approach scheduling in the future.”
The ACC may very well change somewhere down the line. But for now, going with what is known is the best philosophy to have. Normal probably never felt so good.
The game moved to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte in 2010. In four years in Charlotte, the game has averaged nearly 70,000 fans, including two sellouts.
"Charlotte has been an outstanding partner and continues to facilitate the growth and success of the game and our many ancillary events that make this weekend a true celebration of ACC football," Swofford said.
The actual dates of the six championship games in the agreement are:
Dec. 6, 2014
Dec. 5, 2015
Dec. 3, 2016
Dec. 2, 2017
Dec. 1, 2018
Dec. 7, 2019
Swofford said the ACC faculty representatives, who were advised by the league’s athletic directors, voted in favor of the legislation at the ACC’s recent winter meetings, which were held last week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“We will be sending that forward,” Swofford said. “We did vote to send that forward to consideration.”
Swofford said he’s not aware of any other conference that has taken this step yet. Under the current structure, the NCAA requires that each conference have an equal number of teams in each division, and every team must play each opponent in its own division. Should the NCAA lighten its restrictions, conferences would have the option to change the format.
“I’ve had conversations with my colleagues at the other conferences, and I think there’s a reasonable amount of support for that,” Swofford said, “but you never know until it gets to the board and is voted on.”
Swofford said the NCAA could reach a decision as early as April but that any changes wouldn’t be in effect for the 2014 season, should there be any changes at all.
“It’s simply permissive,” he said. “It doesn’t mean there would be changes with the conferences, it simply means the conferences would have the freedom to make those changes if they would choose to do so.”
Miami President Donna E. Shalala: "The Committee on Infractions report closes a challenging chapter in the history of the University of Miami. I am grateful to our coaches, staff and student-athletes for their dedication to the University and to intercollegiate athletics. I also want to thank Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford for his steadfast support. Finally, I want to apologize to the Hurricane family, as we have asked for your patience, faith and support during a difficult time. Thank you for standing with us."
Athletic director Blake James: "Our honest and committed efforts to address these allegations have made us stronger. We have already taken many proactive steps to ameliorate any concerns, and we will continue to improve in all areas. Now it is time we look ahead and work diligently to support our student-athletes."
ACC commissioner John Swofford: "I'm pleased that this case has finally been brought to conclusion and that the University of Miami can now move forward. As I've said all along, Miami's cooperation throughout this process, under the tremendous leadership of President Donna Shalala, should be commended, and I'm glad the NCAA recognized and appreciated the self-imposed efforts that were at such a significant level."
Miami coach Al Golden: "I want to sincerely thank our student-athletes and their families who, not only stood with the University of Miami during this unprecedented challenge, but subsequently volunteered for the mission. They shouldered the burden, exhibited class and exemplified perseverance for Hurricanes everywhere.
"Further, I would like to express heartfelt appreciation to our staff and families who did not subscribe to this challenge three years ago, yet courageously adopted it as their own. They have brought the utmost professionalism, resiliency and integrity to our program. More importantly, they continue to recruit and represent our world-class institution with class and dignity in unprecedented circumstance.
"Lastly, it is with gratitude and humility that I say thank you to our administration, U Family everywhere and the entire South Florida Community for their unyielding support of our young men and program over the last 28 months."
1. Clemson is the undisputed heavyweight -- at least for now. For all of the talk about how the Clemson-Florida State game is going to determine this year’s championship game winner, the votes indicated the Tigers should head into it as the overwhelming favorite. Clemson received 95 votes as this year’s preseason favorite to win the ACC, while Florida State received just 15. You better believe the game will be much closer than that, but Clemson received 102 first-place votes in the Atlantic Division while FSU -- the defending ACC champ -- got 18. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd also received 105 of 120 votes for the ACC’s preseason player of the year. The Tigers are shouldering the same kind of expectations FSU was last year.
2. Miami’s potential is a story again. Al Golden was actually talking about his football team more than the NCAA. How refreshing. In what should be another cluttered Coastal Division race, Miami received 65 first-place votes to win the division. That’s a pretty significant vote of confidence considering the rest of the division should be better than it was a year ago, but nobody returns more starters than the Canes, and they have arguably the best quarterback, so it wasn’t surprising. Never mind that we still don’t know if Miami will even be eligible to win the division, but it’s hard to believe that after two years of self-imposed postseason bans it won’t.
3. The ACC is “stronger than ever.” That was commissioner John Swofford’s message in his forum on Sunday afternoon, and he had plenty of talking points to back it up. Swofford mentioned the partial membership of Notre Dame, the extended partnership with the Orange Bowl, the new and improved bowl lineup, the addition of Louisville and the grant of rights when he spoke about the stability of the conference moving forward. A television network continues to be a possibility, but it is still two to three years away from becoming a reality, if that’s what happens.
4. Virginia Tech is expected to be better. After what was the worst season in 20 years, those within the program are adamant this year will be better, and the media seems to think so, too. The Hokies were picked to finish second in the Coastal Division behind Miami, and embattled quarterback Logan Thomas even got three votes as the ACC’s player of the year. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, hiring a new offensive coordinator, new offensive line coach and receivers coach, and Thomas said first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler has already made a difference. Regardless of what happens in the season-opener against Alabama, Virginia Tech is expected to prove last year was an anomaly in the conference race.
5. Pitt and Syracuse blend right in. The coaches and players all seemed to be a good fit in the ACC, getting along well with each other at the ACC Football Kickoff. Their mere presence at media day was a difference, and the overall crowd seemed bigger in part because of their media contingents, but overall their interview sessions were just like everyone else’s, and they joined the crowded no-man’s land in the preseason predictions. Syracuse was picked to finish sixth and Pitt was voted fifth in the Coastal Division.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- On Sunday evening, long after the interviews and dinner reception had ended at the ACC Football Kickoff, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora joined Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson for a cigar outside the posh Grandover Resort, where this year’s ACC media days are being held.
Somebody should get one for ACC commissioner John Swofford, too.
The good ol' boys of the ACC are feeling pretty good about themselves this year -- as they should.
There was an overriding sense of solidarity at the ACC Football Kickoff, a reflection of the confidence within the league moving forward with its new membership. Over the past two years, the ACC has quietly put itself in position to enter the 2013 season as strong as it’s ever been -- not necessarily on the field, but collectively off it. The league has secured a grant of rights, the first step in even considering the possibility of a television channel. It has added Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville to its membership. It has enhanced its bowl lineup, adding a partnership with the Big Ten. It has added Notre Dame as a partial member in football and extended its relationship with the Discover Orange Bowl.
The ACC has made all the right moves to remain a power conference, which means that at the very least, the ACC is winning off the field -- and that’s a start.
“When you start talking about the population the ACC covers, the TV households the ACC covers, the whole East Coast we cover, you look at competition from within the league -- we’re the strongest we’ve ever been, no question,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. “The perception of the conference has changed, the landscape has changed, the population of TV households you go into has changed, the turnout of the media here has changed -- but the reputation of the conference is still going to depend on us winning our share of games out of conference.”
The ACC might very well go 0-for-3 in Week 1 versus Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, but the message was clear at media days: Nobody is afraid of the SEC, or, as Fedora calls it, “the other league.”
He won’t name 'em. Why?
"Why should I?" he says.
Swofford on Sunday called the past year a “monumental one” for the ACC.
“It's hard to believe the many milestones that have taken place since we were in this same room at this same event last July,” he said during his forum. “As we look to the future, we do so with great anticipation in this league. The composition of the long-term membership of the ACC has never been stronger.”
And they all actually like each other.
Nobody here was talking out of the side of his mouth, calling out former coaches, or creating news with trash talk. Instead, they were golfing together, some coaches were having a glass of wine together, and some players went bowling together. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and UNC quarterback Bryn Renner took time during their interviews to praise South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney as one of the best defenders in the country -- after Clowney said Boyd was scared of him. Pitt receiver Devin Street talked about how it was an honor to be here, and Panthers coach Paul Chryst sat at dinner on Sunday night and talked about how he has enjoyed learning from veterans like Beamer and Duke’s David Cutcliffe.
At the league’s May spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., Chryst and Syracuse coach Scott Shafer had breakfast with Georgia Tech's Johnson. Wake’s Jim Grobe, Cutcliffe and Beamer have long been good friends. And everyone in the ACC -- including Swofford -- has Al Golden's back as he waits for a decision from the NCAA.
“I think the ACC is really strong right now,” Johnson said. “It’s a fun conference to be a part of, unlike some of the other leagues, maybe, or whatever. The coaches do genuinely like each other, respect each other and get along. There’s competition, and it’s fierce on the field, but if you look at the big picture, from academic APR rates, to graduation rates, to performance on the field, of the five conferences, we’re in the top two.”
The ACC didn’t just survive conference realignment, it found a way to benefit from it.
The next step?
Finding a way to beat “the other” conference in Week 1.
Not once was he asked about conference stability. It is a new era indeed.
Swofford instead answered questions about the college football playoff, paying players, a pending lawsuit against the NCAA, and the end of the BCS. His most noteworthy remarks concerned the pay-for-play issue. Last week, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said coaches in the SEC wanted to pay players in football $300 per game to provide some extra money.
"The whole idea of trying to enhance the financial well-being of student-athletes that are on scholarship is on our radar, and we’ve been talking about this nationally for several years now, without finding something that works, that agrees with enough people that works, and I think part of that is because it’s more complicated than first meets the eye," Swofford said.
"If we’re going to enhance the financial well-being of our student-athletes, it’s very difficult to look at it in terms of a sport or two sports. Just from a legal standpoint. Title IX and what’s appropriate, what’s legal. Personally, and this is a personal opinion and it’s not one that I can tell you the majority of our schools support at this point in time, the full cost of attendance as a scholarship would be helpful. I’m not for paying players. I don’t think that’s what college athletics is about, but I am for looking very diligently at a way to enhance the scholarship itself, whether it’s need-based, whether it’s based on a simple stipend that once existed or some other way to approach it, whether it’s going to the full cost of attendance. But you’ve got to be able to find something that enough people can accept and support to move it forward."
Swofford also was asked about the lawsuit Ed O'Bannon filed against the NCAA, which seeks to give players a cut of the money that goes to the NCAA, conferences and league schools. Clemson defensive back Darius Robinson recently joined the lawsuit, along with five other current football players.
"I don’t think anybody really knows where that will ultimately end up," Swofford said. "That’s more for the NCAA to speak to. Obviously it could have significant implications but who knows where it ends up. That’s something we’re going to have to keep our eye on and watch."
None of this is to say ACC football was completely ignored. It wasn't, not at all. Here are some of the league questions he addressed:
Swofford responded to Spurrier's assertion last week at media day that Notre Dame should join a conference in football. Notre Dame is in the ACC now for all sports but football.
"That was discussed when the league made the decision to bring Notre Dame in," Swofford said. "It’s the right thing to do at this point in time. It was a unanimous decision by our institutions and a very positive one that has already benefitted us without question. ... I’m really pleased and I know the vast majority of people in our league are pleased that ND is part of the ACC family under the conditions they are currently under."
Swofford was asked about attending Miami's NCAA Committee on Infractions meeting in June in Indianapolis. "What I took away is I thought the University of Miami and their personnel and their leadership and Mike Glazier handled it extraordinarily well," Swofford said. "I would hope that whatever is coming from the NCAA will come before the season starts. I’d be very disappointed if that was not the case."
Best line of the day: Swofford was asked about the final year of the BCS. "I was the only guy crazy enough to be its coordinator twice," he said. "I say that in jest. The BCS for all its issues and problems has been good for college football. The growth of the game during the existence of the BCS has been phenomenal; it turned the sport from a regional sport to a national sport where people were interested in what was happening on the other side of the continent because it might affect who was playing in the national championship game. All of the controversy will not disappear. Will never disappear. We’ve taken a leap forward with the college football playoff approach."
As for the future site of the ACC championship game, Swofford anticipates a decision will be made around the time of this year's game. Charlotte is in the running to host again.
When: July 21-22
Where: The Grandover Resort, Greensboro, N.C.
Who will be there: Two players and the head coach from every school, and ACC commissioner John Swofford. Highlights from this year’s player attendees include: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd; North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner; Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu; Miami quarterback Stephen Morris; Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro; Florida State DB Lamarcus Joyner; Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses; and Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
Who won’t be there: 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson; Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins; FSU quarterback Jameis Winston (and understandably so, because he hasn’t played yet); Wake Forest DL Nikita Whitlock (he was there last year, along with quarterback Tanner Price); Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs and half the quarterbacks in the league (most of whom will be first-time starters).
Five storylines/things to watch:
1. The Clemson spotlight. Bring your shades. Not that FSU coach Jimbo Fisher won’t have a crowd at his table -- he will -- but expectations are even higher for Clemson. Many predict the Tigers will be chosen the preseason favorite to win the conference. Boyd could be a Heisman contender again, and the Tigers will be playing in the league’s marquee matchup of the nonconference season when they open the season at home against Georgia.
2. The addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the room. This will be the first football kickoff that includes the entire conference with its two newest members, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which officially joined July 1. It will be the first chance for those four players to interact with their new opponents, and for coaches Paul Chryst and Scott Shafer to talk to reporters about their expectations for Season 1 in the ACC.
3. The media circle around Virginia Tech. Quarterback Logan Thomas and coach Frank Beamer are sure to be a big story after such a disappointing 2012 season. Once a projected first-round draft pick, Thomas struggled last year to do it all, but he didn’t have the supporting cast or the accuracy to make another run at the Coastal Division title. Whether the Hokies can rebound this fall after Beamer made sweeping changes to his staff is sure to be a hot topic.
4. Miami’s questions. Many expect the Hurricanes to be very good this season, but nobody knows if they’ll even be eligible to win a title. The NCAA still hasn’t ruled on their highly publicized case, but those within the program keep plodding on. Coach Al Golden appears to have put this year’s roster in contention to win the division, but defensive improvement is a must -- and so is closure from the NCAA.
5. Three new head coaches. Shafer was promoted at Syracuse after spending the past four seasons as defensive coordinator, and this also will be the first ACC Football Kickoff for first-year NC State coach Dave Doeren and Boston College coach Steve Addazio. The three have inherited different challenges, and all are in the Atlantic Division with league heavyweights Clemson and Florida State. What are their plans for keeping their programs relevant in the ACC race?