“Within the ACC, this coming year will include even more focus on our student-athletes,” said Swofford, who reflected on a historic previous 12 months that saw the emergence of a new NCAA structure and the empowerment of the Autonomy 5 conferences. “We feel we are off to a great start, particularly in the engagement and leadership from our (ACC member) institutions.”
Swofford said the ACC hopes to build on the success of its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which was formed during the first year of his tenure as commissioner in 1998. Swofford also referenced the inclusion of more of the conference’s student-athletes on NCAA and standing ACC committees.
“My belief is that it’s important to preserve the student-athlete experience within the context of the larger role our universities play in this country and worldwide,” Swofford said.
While mindful of the ACC’s big-picture role, Swofford noted that the past year was extremely successful for the conference both athletically and academically.
In addition to capturing five NCAA championships for the second straight year and making serious bids for national titles in several other sports, the ACC again earned the highest cumulative rating among Autonomy 5 conferences in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 listing of “Best Colleges.” Nine ACC schools were honored last fall by the AFCA for their football graduation rates, and the conference’s football programs have ranked first each of the last eight years in NCAA Academic Progress Rate.
“I’m proud of the position and potential that we have as a league, and that’s a tribute to the leadership at our member schools,” Swofford said. “Our 15 member institutions are committed to ensuring that the ACC’s cornerstones remain at the forefront of every discussion and decision.”
Swofford lauded the initiatives taken by the ACC and its member schools in regard to player health and safety, particularly heading into the 2015 football season.
“We are supportive and an advocate for making the game of football as safe as it can possibly be, and not just focusing on concussions but all of the player-safety points of concern,” Swofford said. “Our medical group, led by Duke’s Dr. T. Moorman, has begun identifying ways to collaborate on injury prevention and treatment.”
Swofford reported on a new initiative that emerged from the ACC athletics directors’ meeting here Sunday in which it was determined that each member school will have a medical observer in the press box/booth area during every game of the upcoming season. The observer will have the benefit of knowing the medical history of the players. He or she will not have the authority to stop a game, but will have the ability to communicate with the medical staff on the sideline.
Swofford also cited Pitt’s participation in the Department of Defense 30 million dollar concussion research projects, as well as the leadership of North Carolina’s Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz on the NCAA’s concussion committee. Virginia Tech has also been a leader in concussion research.
“As you know, a number of our member institutions have incredible med schools, and we have some top-notch people involved on every campus,” Swofford said.
The possibility of an ACC 24/7 channel remains a prominent item of discussion, and Swofford said the conference and television partner ESPN continue to explore all angles.
“ESPN is as good a partner as you can possibly have,” Swofford said. “They and our partners provide outstanding exposure for our league. Our ratings have been as good as you can get.
“At some point, we will look to make a joint decision about what the best route for the long term future. It is a very important decision going forward, and the good thing is that I don't think there's a wrong decision.”
Before taking reporters’ questions, Swofford concluded his prepared remarks by focusing on a 2015 football season that will see ACC teams try to continue on a recent run of success that produced the 2013 national champion and saw an NCAA-record 22 league teams participate in bowl games – including the inaugural College Football Playoff and two Orange Bowl victories – over the past two seasons.
The upcoming season will again see ACC teams take part in a number of marquee games both within and outside the conference, including prime time exposure on Labor Day Monday night, Thursday night and Friday evenings. The regular season again culminates with the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game at Charlotte’s Bank of America on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 5.
“There’s a lot of reason to look ahead to this season with anticipation,” Swofford said. “Overall, we have a lot of consistency right now in ACC Football and the opportunity to build off some solid successes these past few years.”