COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Good morning and welcome to the 2019 ACC Football Kickoff. I want to start today’s forum as I have in the past, thanking each of you for your attendance at this year’s kickoff as well as acknowledging your countless efforts throughout the years in covering our league and most importantly our players, our coaches and our schools.
It continues to be a privilege for the 23rd time in a row to open this event. It signifies the beginning of not only the upcoming football season but the start of the next academic year.
To say this is an exciting time in the ACC is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this league for around five decades. As a player, as an administrator, and now a commissioner. As I reflect over those years, I can’t remember a period of time that has been as remarkable in this league as in recent years.
With the historical perspective that’s here in this room for many of you, I know you can appreciate the significance when you look at the nearly 70 years of accomplishments in this great conference.
Between the successes of our programs athletically and academically, coupled with the upcoming August launch of the ACC Network, right now is an extremely special time to be a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
With such an extensive tenure as part of this league comes an appreciation of how difficult it is to win championships, and to do it consistently. I know it from a player perspective, I know it from an AD perspective, and I know it from a commissioner perspective.
I’m extremely proud of our institutions. Success starts with quality people. The leadership on our campuses is second to none. This is true throughout the ranks of our 15 schools.
I’d be remiss not to take a few minutes to highlight just how remarkable our programs have been in recent years.
The ACC has won seven national championships in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and baseball since 2015. That’s the most of any conference. The next closest conference has four. We were the only league to win each of those four titles over that stretch.
Our seven national titles in those sports have come from six different programs: Virginia, 2019, men’s basketball. Clemson, multiples, 2016 and ’18 football. Notre Dame, 2018 women’s basketball. Carolina, 2017, men’s basketball. Duke, 2015, men’s basketball, and in 2015 Virginia baseball.
Our league has won more football national titles than any other conference since 2013. Three of the last six, two different programs. More men’s basketball national championships than any other league since 2015. That’s three of the last five. Those six championships have come from five different schools.
This past year, the ACC won the football and men’s basketball national titles in the same academic year for the fourth time in our history, and the second time in the last three years.
As you know, that just does not happen very often in this league or in any league.
Clemson football has been a part of three of those four historical milestones. This past year, our programs won 16 national championships, three on the women’s side, three on the men’s side, UNC field hockey, Florida State women’s soccer, Clemson football, UVA men’s basketball, Duke women’s golf, UVA men’s lacrosse.
We also had teams competing in the national championship game in women’s basketball, Notre Dame, and women’s lacrosse, Boston College. In addition, in the women’s soccer and women’s golf finals, both of those featured two ACC teams. That’s really a good day when you’re a commissioner, when you have two of your teams playing for a national championship, because most national championships are really stressful that you’re trying to win. But when you’re sitting there before a game, and you know you’re going to win it as a league, that’s a pretty special day.
Beyond the playing fields, tracks and courts, our league continues to be progressive by striving to provide the best care and opportunities for our players and our programs.
As a league, we continue to set the standard in virtually any annual academic measurement or ranking, whether it’s in U.S. News and World Report, the NCAA’s APR and GSR, just to name a few.
I’m proud to say I’m proud of our institutions because what I just said is not a sometime kind of thing, it’s an annual kind of thing. Our schools do that on a regular basis.
In April we honored another exceptional class of ACC postgraduate scholarship recipients and presented Georgia Tech, this year’s ACC Game Changers Award for its service to the hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
In May we launched the inaugural ACC Mental Health and Wellness Summit, which explored strategies and best practices for mental healthcare at each institution, as well as trying to find ways to reduce the stigma of mental illnesses and provide access to mental health services on our campuses.
As a league, we’re committed to working with our institutional leadership, and I think most importantly including those the ACC and our campus student-athlete advisory committees, because their input is instrumental in all of this, to explore and create meaningful programs and services for our athletes.
As I stated before, what a terrific run the programs in this league have compiled. It’s the strength of our schools, our student-athletes, our coaches, and our alumni and fans that have brought us to this unprecedented point in ACC history.
Looking forward, the most significant opportunity that’s upon us is the August 22nd launch of the ACC Network. Having the opportunity to do this with the terrific partner that we’re working with has been a progression over time. It’s been a journey. Significant milestones in the league’s history over the past 15 years or see have brought us to this point.
Critical milestones have been multiple expansions, as you’re well aware, to strengthen our conference competitively and expand our geographic footprint, which now gives us the largest population and most television sets of any conference at our level.
A grant of rights was critical from all 15 member schools as a commitment to each other and to provide full solidarity for the future.
A strong commitment to improving the overall quality and depth of our football as a league to meet the changing business model of college athletics that is more dominated than ever by the sport of football.
We needed to do that without losing our position as arguably the premier basketball conference in the country in both men’s and women’s basketball.
I believe we have done that. Those events have put us in the position to partner with ESPN on the network. It needs to be built the right way for the long-term. It needs to be built to last. Thus a lot of thought has gone into when to launch, how it will look, and what its programming will be.
The ACC Network will give our schools a national platform to showcase our campuses, our coaches, our student-athletes. This will result in 24/7 ACC programming, increased exposure for our athletic programs, our student-athletes, our entire universities, and their communities.
It will bring unprecedented exposure for our women athletes and programs, enhanced infrastructure through school broadcast studios and staffing. Our schools have done a magnificent job of stepping up to the plate in developing that infrastructure and broadcast studios on their individual campuses.
Additional educational opportunities and real-world experience for students on our campuses that will be involved in this. Of course, increased revenue that will be distributed back to the universities for use as each campus deems appropriate.
(ACC Network presentation)
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: I’m often asked what ACC Network’s success will look like at launch and in future years.
First, we obviously want to meet our distribution goals. From the very beginning, based on discussions with ESPN and our media advisers, we always planned for this to be a three-year progression in terms of distribution, tied to when the various omnibus deals are up with Disney and ESPN.
At launch, we fully expect to be exactly where we projected internally, if not a bit ahead. Any additional deals that are negotiated earlier than what we might expect in years two and three will be icing on the cake, obviously welcomed. Certainly some of those could happen.
Beyond distribution, there’s so many opportunities in having a 24/7 dedicated network. As we just saw, the quality of this network will be outstanding and uniquely ours. It will provide a platform for our current players, programs and schools, as well as highlighting the rich history surrounding the individuals that have made the league what it is today.
As mentioned, one of the things about this that I’m most excited about is that it’s a great storytelling opportunity. The stories that can be told about this league and its history, the people and the teams that have made it what it is today, are extraordinary, and you fully expect those stories will be extraordinary going forward, as well.
With that, let me stop and open it up for questions. I know we haven’t touched on some of the things we normally touch on in this forum as it relates to the upcoming football season, as well. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that with our outstanding coaches that are here with us, as well as the players that are here with us. We wanted to focus on what is a truly historic milestone for the league in launching the ESPN ACC Network.
Q. Commissioner, just wanted to ask you, with Clemson’s success the last four years, you’re trying to get this network launched, how much has that meant from the football side of things they’ve been able to do and the things they’ve done with your negotiations with ESPN?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Well, I don’t think you can even measure it. It has meant a great deal, there’s no question about that. The fact that we’ve had, from a football perspective, a team every year of the College Football Playoff in its first few years, that says a lot. The fact that Clemson has won two of the last three national championships, timing couldn’t be better from a business standpoint and from a network standpoint.
I think, too, when you couple the other championships in the other sports, the depth and the absolute full commitment that our schools have made to the sport of football, it’s given us a lot more depth than we used to have, it’s given us a lot more opportunity going forward to have numerous quality teams.
But any time you have a team that’s doing what Clemson is doing in college football, it’s good for the entire league, and certainly good for this network launch, without question.
It’s awfully nice to be able to launch a network with the first live football game having the national champion in it. I think that says it all in terms of Clemson, what they’ve done as well as what it then means to the league in terms of going forward with the network.
Great timing from a Clemson standpoint. Great timing, as I earlier reviewed the last five, six years, that kind of competitive success, as I said, it just simply good for business.
Q. Tony Barnhart, who you know, had a great line about the success of the ACC Network. He said, In some conferences when somebody wants the new channel, they might place a phone call or email. In the SEC, there’s so many passionate fans, they might threaten to burn somebody’s house down if they don’t get the SEC Network. How have you seen ACC fans show whatever passion they’ve shown about your soon-to-be network? What numbers do you have to communicate to carriers that there is this intense passion for this product, which of course would only serve your launch and the aftermath well?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Well, the intense passion is there. That’s evident. We see that. I think as you get toward launch, the way distribution works, a lot of those deals happen at the midnight hour, so to speak.
I think our fan bases will respond very, very negatively if they’re not able to get this. I think they will show that. I would encourage them to show that, short of burning down any houses. We wouldn’t want them to do that.
Fan bases, their voices need to be heard. We count on them to demand of their carrier to take the ACC Network. I think this is must-see television quite frankly. It’s not just watching a game, it’s watching the Atlantic Coast Conference in every sport, in every way, from the inside-out and from the outside-in. If you’re a sports fan and you live in the footprint of the ACC or you’re an alum that is in another part of the country, there’s going to be nothing like we have ever had in the ACC.
I’m very confident in the passion and the willingness and ability to express that passion at the right time with our fan bases.
Q. What is the prognosis, the timetable, for actually getting deals done with cable companies like Cox and Comcast and Spectrum, DISH Network? How worried are you that you’ve kind of committed to putting a lot of games on this new network before you actually have deals in place so your fans can actually see these games?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Well, the games need to be scheduled because people need to understand and see the quality that’s going to be on the network. That’s certainly by design.
The questions about distribution really should be answered by ESPN. What I will tell you is that we’re very confident that ESPN are the best in the world when it comes to distribution. It’s all part of the Disney family. When you combine ESPN sports with what Disney does that is non-sports, that’s strong. I think we all understand that. That’s one of the reasons that we feel so confident as this builds out with who we’re partnered with.
Q. Mine is maybe the same question: Most of the University of Miami fans in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have Comcast/Xfinity or AT&T U-verse as their cable provider. I know they’re not tied in yet with the network. Again, what would you tell them in particular? What is their biggest challenge? What happens if they don’t get it? What are they supposed to do then?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: You’ll be able to get the ACC Network anywhere in the nation one way or another, whether it’s DIRECTV, whether it’s Hulu that are already onboard. People will have an opportunity to change carriers if they’re not happy with their current one who is not carrying the ACC Network. That’s what I would say first.
Secondly, what I’ve said over and over again, contact your carrier if they’re not carrying it and demand that you want it. It’s a consumer sort of thing. Be passionate when you do it.
Q. Obviously we’re here in Charlotte again. Charlotte is going to host the ACC Championship again. What has made Charlotte such a good place for the ACC? With the Panthers, the perception they’re going to build a new stadium, any concern or worry about that contract being extended further?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Right now our contract runs through 2030 in Charlotte for our football championship game. Obviously that in itself tells you how pleased we have been. We truly have found a home for our championship game. It took us a while. We learned some lessons along the way.
We have found a home here. I’ve spent extensive time with the new ownership that the Panthers have. It’s already a terrific relationship. They are fully supportive and onboard. In fact, spent some time with Tom Glick last night.
We feel extraordinarily good about Charlotte and the ACC Championship. I think when you talk about that, it’s Charlotte, the first Saturday in December, every year. That’s going to be for a long time to come.
If the stadium is improved, there ends up being a dome stadium or something of that nature, that’s all the better. We would be a part of that, as well.
Charlotte, when you combine the city, Uptown Charlotte, the hotels that are here, the restaurants that are here in close proximity to the stadium, and what is now, we consider, an outstanding stadium. I mean, that’s an outstanding stadium today. So it’s all about looking to the future and where do things need to be longer term. I know David Tepper is brilliant at that.
So we expect to be here a long time, and very, very pleased with it. What, eight of our schools are within 300 miles, so it’s very drivable for a lot of our schools. You can fly directly to Charlotte from every single one of our schools. A lot of the people we’re going to be working with administratively and some studio work for the ACC Network will be done here in Charlotte.
We have a long history with Charlotte, even before the football championship game, with men’s basketball and women’s basketball to a degree. Our baseball championship will be here next spring. Terrific park here for that, as well.
The Charlotte-ACC relationship is a long one. It’s stronger now than it’s ever been.
It’s interesting, with the growth of our league, as it’s expanded, Charlotte has remained sort of the epicenter of the footprint.
Q. You have often expressed your reservations about legalized gambling as it relates to intercollegiate athletics, especially after hearing from athletes at the spring meetings.
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Right.
Q. A lot of ESPN programming embraces gambling. Have you had discussions with ESPN folks on gambling and discussions on the ACC Network?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: To a degree. It’s obviously a changing world for us in regard to that. David, quite frankly, our presidents would like to see a carve-out for college athletics, so that college athletics could not be gambled on, as well as high school athletics. So that effort continues. We’ll see how that works out.
Obviously with ESPN or anybody else we’re partnering with, we want space between gambling and our games, so we do have those discussions. We will have conversations ongoing about that.
But the laws are changing. I would hope that at some point, at the federal level, there’s some consistency brought to how this is done state to state, if it indeed is going to happen in a particular state.
Obviously the states make that decision right now. I think there’s, what, seven or so that have gotten there to this point. I’m sure there will be a lot more. So it’s something we’re going to have to learn how to navigate.
Obviously gambling has been there illegally. We’re well aware of that. A lot of it. Now it’s legal, and we have to figure out, I think, how that changes things in terms of how our athletes perceive it, the pressure that it puts on our athletes, the pressure it puts on people that are around our programs.
It’s pretty compelling conversation in the spring at our spring meetings with the athletes we had in that were representing that. They’re very uncomfortable with the position it can put them in with their fellow students, how they might be perceived walking into a classroom, and another student mad because they did something that cost them some money.
What does it mean now that something is legal, if it is legal in your state? Does that change the mentality with students and with young people that, hey, this is okay, there’s nothing wrong with it, and with our athletes?
There’s a learning curve there for us to figure out what we need to be doing. But we also haven’t given up on protecting the collegiate game. I wouldn’t handicap that. I’ll use that term as to where that may end up. But we haven’t given up on that. We’re also pushing hard for some federal legislation that would bring some consistency from state to state as to how it’s done.
In our league, we have 10 states. They could all go about things a little bit differently, which would complicate some of the things we would be trying to do.
Q. The SEC announced that they’re going to do like a Twitter account that will take fans inside their video center to explain rules, certain statistics. Has the ACC considered adopting a similar policy or doing something on the ACC Network to take fans inside decision-making?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: No, not at this point. It’s something we’ll keep an eye on and discuss. If it’s something we think would be good to follow, that would enhance things, we’ll take a serious look at it.
But in terms of going the route that the SEC is going right now, we do not have plans to do that.
Q. NC State got the first notice of allegations in what figures to be many in the federal investigation fallout. What are your thoughts on that? How do you expect the NCAA to handle all this new evidence that they got from the trial and the depositions?
COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Well, the first thing I would say is what you hear me say every time when we have that type of issue in the league, you wish it didn’t exist. I don’t know of anybody better that will deal with this very effectively than Chancellor Woodson and Boo Corrigan. You couldn’t have two better people to deal with it the right way, the most effective way on behalf of NC State. Hopefully it’s over with and behind them as quickly as possible, with as little damage as possible.
We won’t comment on that ongoing process, as you know, from a league perspective. We’re basically here to assist, in this case, North Carolina State in any way they deem appropriate in terms of helping them with the process.
In terms of speculating, the NCAA, it’s an interesting time on that because it’s the first time that the NCAA will be using a different process, different method, if you will, to evaluate what has happened in court and testimony that has happened in court.
I think a lot of us in college athletics have our eyes on that, and the others that will come after that, just to see how the NCAA approaches that, how effective it is. So it’s really hard because of the timing and the circumstance to really speculate much on it because there’s no real history there with it at this point in time.
So NC State and the other programs that may be implicated will be living that history.
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