ACC Kickoff Q&A: John Swofford

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- ACC commissioner John Swofford discussed a number of topics with the media at the 2014 ACC Football Kickoff.

Opening Statement:
Following this year's regular season and ACC Football Championship Game, the league will be helped as one of the five power conferences in the new College Football Playoff, while also continuing our longtime partnership with the Orange Bowl as a part of the new postseason format.

Personally, I'm very pleased to see us reach this point and to be at a point where the football playoff begins because I can remember for years Mike Slive and I being the lone voices in the BCS room pushing for some type of playoff, so it's really good to see it come to fruition, and I think it'll be a tremendous addition for fans and players alike and a great thing for college football.

In addition, we couldn't be more pleased with the future lineup of our bowl games, including many longtime partners and some new ones, as well. Orlando's New Year's Day game as well as the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium, the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman in D.C., the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, the Detroit Lions bowl, and the Bitcoin St.Petersburg Bowl.

Overall these outstanding partners provide more postseason opportunities, better selection flexibility, improved financials, marquee match-ups, and attractive destinations for our teams, fans and alums. As announced during our most recent spring meetings, we have determined our future league scheduling model, which will begin in 2017, that includes maintaining our eight conference game schedule, plus one non-conference game against a team from one of the other four power five conferences or Notre Dame, whose scheduling partnership with our teams begins this year.

Looking ahead, there's not much of an update I have to cover for you today, but I felt it was important to note that we will continue to have our discussions with our partners at ESPN about a potential ACC channel, and I remain pleased with how productive and insightful those discussions have been to this point.

Our focus will remain on making sure ACC content continues to be available any time, any place and anywhere. We know we have the most television households and the highest population in our footprint of any conference nationally, and we think that gives us enormous potential as we look to the future. In addition to the very positive things happening within our own league, there's no overlooking the national discussions during this period of restructuring within college athletics.

I applaud the very effective efforts of Wake Forest president Nathan Hatch, who serves as chair of both the NCAA's steering committee on restructuring as well as its board of directors, as I think most of you know, the steering committee released its report to the membership on Friday, and it will present the report to the full board of directors for approval on August the 7th.

I find the steering committee's report very encouraging, and it is my hope that it will be adopted by the full board in August so that implementation of the new structure and procedures can begin this fall. It largely gives the power five conferences what we have been asking for and keeps the current revenue sharing approach and the NCAA basketball tournament intact, thus keeping us all under what we call the big tent of the NCAA.

The change that continues to be called for is key to ensuring that the model reflects the needs of the 21st century student-athletes, while also recognizing how special the collegiate model is to the educational system within our country and to our culture.

As we look ahead, the ACC, along with the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC, will continue to prioritize the discussions surrounding the enhancement of the athletics scholarship, ensuring that student-athletes have every opportunity to earn a degree, even if they come back after their eligibility has expired and they're through playing, and ensure that they have their health and safety needs met by the institutions that they represent.

Speaking of health and safety, I think the work done by our membership this past year should be noted. There's always an emphasis on prioritizing player safety, and this year allowed the ACC the opportunity to take a leadership role within the NCAA by taking an active role and officially endorsing the new guidelines that were just recently released from the NCAA office.

We will monitor new research data from the department of defense surrounding its $30 million research project which features Pitt as one of the 16 participating schools in that project. This past March, we convened a meeting of the ACC's institutional medical personnel to update and refine player safety policies which were then shared and discussed with our football coaches, our athletic directors, and our institutional personnel at our spring meetings. And today, we're pleased to announce our endorsement as a conference of the USA Football Heads Up program, which will also entail our coaches participating in a public relations campaign to increase awareness at the youth football level and protect the future players of this great game.

We also put forward three requests to the NCAA rules committee asking for the ability to expand the use of technology in practices and games for player safety data collection purposes. We were approved for usage of player monitoring systems in ACC games this fall, and our other two requests will be discussed by the NCAA football rules committee in February of 2015.

These two requests include experimentation with a helmet camera during competition and the use of a coach-quarterback communication system. Now, let's talk specifically about the 2014 ACC football regular season.

This year we welcome the University of Louisville's Bobby Petrino and Wake Forest's Dave Clawson to a terrific group of coaches that I know all 14 are focused with great anticipation on the opening weekend. In recent years, the ACC arguably has played the toughest non-conference schedules, and looking ahead, this appears to hold true once again.

ACC teams will play more non-conference games against teams in ESPN's Preseason Way Too Early Top 25 with 12, and more games against teams in the final AP Top 25 from last year with nine, the most of any of the power five conferences.

Our teams will also play 24 non-conference games against teams that participated in bowl games in 2013, which ties for the most of any power five conference, so our schools continue to play quality opponents outside of the league, while the league gets better and better internally. None of our teams will face fewer than six opponents that participated in bowl games last year. While 11 of the 14 will play at least eight bowl teams from 2013, and Miami and Virginia will each face 10 teams that were in postseason play a year ago.

Our 2014 college season starts strong with opening weekend, culminating with our annual Labor Day match-up, which will feature Miami at Louisville in the Cardinals' first Atlantic Coast Conference football game. Thursday nights will again serve as a great showcase for our teams with five games nationally televised by ESPN, and three additional Friday nationally televised games, the same as last year.

As has been the case in recent years, we're extremely pleased that every ACC-controlled football game will be available to our fans and available nationwide. Our relationship with ESPN allows us to maximize our reach and bring ACC football and content to fans wherever they are across a multitude of devices, whether traditional television or national digital and mobile platforms like ESPN 3 and Watch ESPN, ACC content is truly available everywhere, and that has been a goal of ours and continues to be a goal.

In addition to ESPN, the ACC Network through Raycom continues to be broader than ever before with a reach of over 90 million potential households, and no geographic parameters on the distribution. The ACC Network is available in each of the top 10 television markets in the United States, and in 21 of the top 25 markets nationally.

In addition to each week's ACC Network game, Raycom will again produce ACC Blitz, a very successful studio show which airs prior to each week's ACC Network game.

The ACC app and vault continue to flourish, while the ACC digital network has made monumental strides since launching less than three years ago to become an industry leader.

We're also extremely pleased that our partners at Fox Sports South will be announcing a new weekly studio show called ACC Gridiron Live that will air each Wednesday night beginning August the 27th. The show will be made available to over 70 million cable and satellite households across the country each week, and it will deliver stories, highlights and interviews from around the ACC along with a weekly breakdown of every regular season matchup.

Now, in closing, I know many of you have questions and I'll be glad to answer as many as we have time for, but let me, again, as I opened, end by thanking each of you for being here, thanking each of you for your coverage of college football, and thanking each of you for your coverage, particularly of the ACC, our schools, our players, and our coaches.

July 10th was the coordinating day and deadline for Maryland and the ACC to meet with the mediator. Was that deadline met, and what can you tell us about where that process stands?
David, I'm really not at liberty to respond to your specific question. We generally will not be commenting on that case. It's still in process, and what I've said before is that we wish Maryland well. They were a quality member of this league for 60 years, and our league feels that it has a responsibility to the Atlantic Coast Conference member institutions to live by our constitution and bylaws as they leave the league. And I'll leave it at that.

Two-part question: The report to the steering committee, is there anything in there that you wanted to see that is not in there? And then where does the ACC stand on four-year scholarships?
There's probably-- you know, with this kind of a process, one of the reasons that I have so much respect for the job that Nathan Hatch and the steering committee has done and is doing, this is difficult stuff, and to have Nathan's steady hand in being the person that he is and the respect that he carries in the educational community and in NCAA circles, he has led and managed this process extraordinarily well.

I would guess there is nobody who will get everything they want at the end of the day, and so it's probably going to be more of-- there may be some things where we would like to have had a few more people on the board or the council, or we might have even liked the board to be a little bit smaller, but the primary things I think are moving along very, very, very well, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't pass on August the 7th.

You know, there's always compromise in these kinds of discussions, and the autonomy was the most important aspect of it, and it looks like that will be forth coming. One of the things that our athletic directors wanted to see that I really wanted to see, having been in that chair for as long as I was and then in this chair, and watching what's happened with NCAA processes over the last decade or slightly more, and the ADs not being engaged to the degree that they need to be because they're the practitioners. They're the ones who live this 24/7.

That is going to be there in this new structure, and that's important. I think it's time for our student-athletes to have a voting voice at the national level. That is going to be in there. You know, so there's some-- the autonomy aspect of it just opens up a lot of opportunities for the five conferences to do some things that we feel are important, and most of those things are initially related to the student-athletes' situation.

Like a lot of things, the devil is in the details, and I can't stand here today and tell you that the five of us are all on the same page as to those details and how the scholarships should be altered exactly, because it gets sort of complicated, but in concept, I don't think there's any question that all five conferences are on the same page.

You know, I think the comment to our group that the good ship status quo has sailed, and it's time for some changes and some significant changes, and it's going to present some challenges, but it's time for that, and those are the right kinds of things to do and to address.

Just as an offshoot, what in your estimation has been the net effect of the efforts by the Northwestern football players to unionize, and do you think that the steering committee addressed some of their concerns that they have had, or is this two different topics here?
Well, I think they're two different topics. I think if you haven't been a part of these discussions for the last two or three years, the average fan out there may look at this and say it's a knee-jerk reaction to the Northwestern situation. It's not. You'd be hard-pressed to find any of us in college athletics that think our student-athletes are employees of the university, and we'll have to wait and see how that plays out with the NLRB as it plays out and then deal with it from that standpoint.

But a lot of the things that-- a lot of the issues that arose out of the Northwestern situation were issues that had already been identified, and this whole effort to restructure and give more autonomy to the schools that have the financial resources to address some of those issues started long before the Northwestern situation arose.

To the best of your recollection, can you remember the NCAA ever reopening a case that has already been ruled on, and as both a graduate of UNC and the Commissioner of the ACC, how great a concern is there over the potential for greater sanctions and how the academic allegations at UNC will affect the perception of both the school and the league?
Well, I can't really comment on the investigation, which again, is our normal position on any investigations that are open. You know, your question about an investigation being reopened, I can't tell you one specifically, but I doubt that this is the first one from an NCAA standpoint.

Brad Hostetter is sitting in the back of the room and was at the NCAA for a while before coming to our staff. Brad, do you recall any of a specific nature? No, okay. So I don't really know, but--

How does the fact that the NCAA is coming back to UNC, does that perception affect the school and the league given the seriousness of the allegation?
You know, I think it's a situation that I'm sure UNC is doing everything that it can do to put it behind them, get to the bottom of it. They've already made a number of changes that I understand. Whether the reopening will lead to anything any different, I have no idea at this point in time. But any time-- I think any commissioner would tell you that any time an institution is having an NCAA issue, you'd like to get it clarified and put to rest and move forward as soon as you can. That's true any time we have any of those kinds of situations.

Regarding an early signing period, has the ACC established a position around early signing for football, and if so, kind of what have you guys put forward?
Well, we're for an early-signing period, and in fact, out of our discussions in May with our coaches and athletic directors, I took forward to the Commissioner's Association about a month ago our conceptual proposal, and the CCA, because of the-- the Conference Commissioner's Association, not the NCAA, handles this type of thing, so that's where it'll be determined, and Jon Steinbrecher, the commissioner of the MAC, is now chairing a committee that we've put together, to see what we can come up with that would be agreeable to enough people to get it passed for an early-signing date.

But we are as a conference strongly in favor of an early-signing date. We're willing to have some flexibility as to when that is, but we feel it's something that would be healthy for the game, healthy for the institutions and healthy for the young men being recruited.

Is there a timeline as to when this will (inaudible)?
Well, whether it'll be put in place depends on whether it passes, obviously. I think the absolute earliest it could be put in place would be next fall. Whether we can get there by then, I don't know. It's been a-- that's been a subject that our league has been supportive of-- a change that our league has been supportive of for a number of years, and we just haven't been able to get enough other people to agree with us on it, so we keep working at it.

I think we're closer. I think we've made some progress. I'm encouraged.

You have background of course as both a quarterback and a defensive back, so I'd like you to evaluate the ACC's returning offenses and defenses, how likely is it that the league can make the playoffs in the first year, and how important is it to get into the top four in the first year?
Well, I think we've got as good a shot as anybody to be in the top four the first year. We certainly have teams that are capable of being there. I think we all know in winning a National Championship or an ACC Championship, or in this case being in the top four in the country and playing for the National Championship, you have to be good, and you have to have some good fortune usually along the way, as well, from an injury standpoint, a lot of different things can happen. But I don't think there's any question that our teams-- we will have teams in the mix to be in the four-team playoff every year, and any time we don't have one, we'll be disappointed.

And I think certainly the other four power five conference commissioners would tell you the same thing. I mean, that's what you play for. Do I think the controversies are going to go away? No. Whoever is fifth is probably going to be unhappy, just like whoever was third was unhappy, in some years. Some years it may be non-controversial and very obvious who the best four teams are, just like at times-- we had years in the BCS where nobody really argued about the two teams that were there. We had other years in the BCS where it seemed to be a little bit controversial now and then.

How important is it the first year?
Well, certainly it's important. You'd like for it to be the first year. You don't want to get in the first year and then not be there again for a decade, so it's not the end of the world if you don't have a team the first year because this is going to go on for at least a dozen years, but you'd certainly like to get out of the blocks with a team in the playoff the first year.

Should the big five be given autonomy the next year, what is the ACC's wish list of what you would like to see enacted and adopted, and then on the scholarship, what does the ACC want to happen in terms of the amount of the stipend, the number of years of scholarship, that type of thing?
Well, I think the first thing on the docket, and appropriately so, will be the scholarship itself, and is that full cost of attendance. That's kind of the code word, so to speak, right now. You know, conceptually I think that is something we support as a league. But there are some different ways to look at full cost of attendance. Some of our schools have an interest in a need factor being a part of that formula in terms of full cost of attendance. Others maybe aren't as strong in terms of the need factor.

And I think certainly in today's environment, as you would expect, anything we do we're going to have to do very carefully from a legal standpoint because it's going to need to pass muster legally in terms of what it is, and you get into the Pell Grant monies and other monies that the NCAA also includes that are beyond the normal cost of a full grant and aid now.

So all those things are going to have to be factored into the definition of full cost of attendance. Is it simply the federal formula on that, which would create some discrepancies from one institution to the next? Or is it altered in some way? Once we have the autonomy-- the autonomy gives us the opportunity to come up with something that enough of us can agree upon that it'll move forward for the five conferences, but there will be some interesting discussions, I think, within the five, and we'll need to immediately begin developing a process for the five conferences and how we operate together in bringing about legislation that would be permissive for the five as well as permissive beyond the five for those who would want to take part in it.

There's going to be a lot of work to be done after August 7th if this passes, as I believe and hope that it will, in order to start the ball rolling and determine how we are going to function.

What else do you want to have happen if you get autonomy? What else is on the wish list?
Well, the scholarship, I think probably the four-year scholarship, probably some changes in regulations related to the elite athletes and how they are able to make determinations as to whether they should go pro or not and who they can talk with during that process and still not lose their eligibility, and student welfare issues, the 20-hour rule. That's being abused; we know that. And what are the best scenarios for student athletes in an educational environment that allows them to excel at the highest level but gives them the freedom to take advantage educationally of the things that they may want to take advantage of educationally. That's important, too. There's some things we need to look at there. I think there's some things we need to look at-- we talked about health and safety issues. Those would be on the table.

So if you notice, that top five or six list is really related to the experience of the athlete.

As it pertains to the elite athlete and autonomy and opening things up, where is player likeness on that? I know USA Today reported that the NCAA got rid of a waiver that gives away the likeness rights to the NCAA. Is there discussion with the power five if Johnny Manziel wants to sign autographs he might be able to do that in the future without punishment?
There's some discussion on that, yes, and we'll have to see the legal process through, obviously, as to where that ends up.

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