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.”