Teel col­umn

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - David Teel dteel@Times­Dis­patch.com

Lots of un­knowns as ACC dis­cusses fall football.

ACC com­mis­sioner John Swof­ford ad­dressed reporters Thurs­day in the same way he presided over the con­fer­ence’s an­nual spring meet­ings this week: vir­tu­ally.

We­bex is a far cry from the Ritz-Carl­ton on Amelia Is­land, Fla., the meet­ings’ tra­di­tional home, and the root of that venue change, our on­go­ing health/eco­nomic cri­sis, was a pri­mary topic among ACC pres­i­dents, ath­letic di­rec­tors, football and basketball coaches, fac­ulty rep­re­sen­ta­tives and se­nior women’s ad­min­is­tra­tors through­out the week.

“Some­times I feel like right now all we deal with are hy­po­thet­i­cals,” Swof­ford said, “and that’s a tough world to live in be­cause of the in­abil­ity to nar­row those po­ten­tial paths … to only a few. And right now, they’re well be­yond a few.”

For ex­am­ple, Swof­ford out­lined four 2020-21 bud­get sce­nar­ios for which the league is plan­ning: a com­plete sports cal­en­dar; ab­bre­vi­ated football; no football but a full men’s basketball sea­son; and the nu­clear no sports at all.

Lurk­ing in those pos­si­bil­i­ties are other un­knowns. Will at­ten­dance be un­lim­ited, re­stricted by so­cial dis­tanc­ing or all but pro­hib­ited? Would an ab­bre­vi­ated football reg­u­lar sea­son be 10 or eight games? Con­fer­ence only?

How would football in­de­pen­dent Notre Dame’s six con­tests against ACC op­po­nents be folded into a league-only sched­ule?

“There are no an­swers at this point in time,” Swof­ford said. “I think time … is our friend right now. It’s go­ing to be a fas­ci­nat­ing sum­mer [of de­lib­er­a­tions and de­ci­sions] in a lot of ways.”

To help in­form those de­ci­sions, the ACC has ap­pointed a COVID-19 med­i­cal ad­vi­sory panel. The group in­cludes one mem­ber from each of the 15 league schools and is chaired by Cameron Wolfe, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of medicine at Duke and an in­fec­tious dis­eases ex­pert.

More­over, a com­mit­tee of four ACC ath­letic di­rec­tors — Clem­son’s Dan Radakovich, Mi­ami’s Blake James, North Carolina State’s Boo Corrigan and Syra­cuse’s John Wild­hack — is study­ing football is­sues. Vir­ginia Tech’s Whit Bab­cock, a mem­ber of the NCAA Divi­sion I football over­sight com­mit­tee, of­fers in­put to the league panel.

Swof­ford and the other Power Five com­mis­sion­ers also will mon­i­tor the NBA, Ma­jor League Base­ball and the NFL as they pre­cede col­lege ath­let­ics in at­tempt­ing to stage train­ing camps and, in the case of the NBA and MLB, com­pe­ti­tion. The five com­mis­sion­ers met last week with NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell and some of his staff, and Swof­ford an­tic­i­pates fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Swof­ford said test­ing for COVID-19 “will be crit­i­cal” but that the ACC has yet to es­ti­mate the cost or fre­quency of test­ing. He called the idea of play­ing football, or other sports, with no other stu­dents on cam­pus “for­eign to me be­cause we’re a part of an ed­u­ca­tional set­ting.”

Echo­ing other ad­min­is­tra­tors na­tion­ally, Swof­ford doesn’t be­lieve a mi­nor­ity of ACC schools elect­ing not to stage sports would pre­clude the ma­jor­ity from com­pet­ing. The league’s mem­bers re­side in 10 states with var­i­ous shel­ter-in­place guide­lines, and Swof­ford said ACC of­fi­cials have not dis­cussed what a min­i­mum num­ber of com­peti­tors would need to be.

Many con­fer­ences, in­clud­ing the At­lantic 10 and Big South have an­nounced plans to shorten some of their league cham­pi­onships to save money, and the Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence elim­i­nated eight of its cham­pi­onships. But Swof­ford de­scribed ACC fi­nances as “sound” and said it would be “pre­ma­ture” to pon­der sim­i­lar mea­sures.

To il­lus­trate that sound­ness, Swof­ford said ESPN has paid the con­fer­ence’s 2020-21 tele­vi­sion rights “in full,” de­spite the can­cel­la­tion of the ACC men’s basketball tour­na­ment’s fi­nal seven games. He also said ACC Net­work rev­enue is ahead of pro­jec­tions for its first year, help­ing the league reach 98% of its an­tic­i­pated dis­tri­bu­tions to mem­ber schools.

Swof­ford ad­dressed other is­sues that em­anated from the spring meet­ings:

Cit­ing ath­letes’ men­tal health as a con­tin­u­ing ACC pri­or­ity, he said an April we­bi­nar on cop­ing with the pan­demic drew more than 400 par­tic­i­pants. In lieu of its sec­ond an­nual men­tal health sum­mit, the league is dis­tribut­ing a se­ries of videos to ath­letes through­out May.

Col­lec­tively, Swof­ford and other ACC of­fi­cials have ap­plauded move­ment to­ward al­low­ing an ath­lete to mon­e­tize his/her name, im­age and like­ness, but Swof­ford warned of im­pend­ing NCAA leg­is­la­tion “go­ing too far.” He said the fo­cus must be “on com­pli­ance and keep­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate peo­ple out of re­cruit­ing. We al­ready have is­sues and prob­lems with that. … We don’t want to make that worse.”

With the ACC’s N.C. State and Louisville en­snared in ma­jor NCAA in­frac­tions cases in­volv­ing men’s basketball re­cruit­ing, Swof­ford un­der­stands the dark side all too well.

End­ing Thurs­day’s group in­ter­view, Swof­ford said, “I’ve been in this a long time, and in­ter­col­le­giate ath­let­ics has never been in a more chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion. … But you can say that about so many as­pects of our coun­try.

“So many peo­ple are so neg­a­tively im­pacted by this in var­i­ous ways, in the loss of life and the loss of jobs.”

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