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ACC Kickoff 2015: Commissioner John Swofford Press Conference Transcript

The leader of the conference addressed the media and fielded questions during yesterday's ACC Kickoff.

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: First of all, let me welcome you to another year of an ACC football kickoff. This is my 19th. I'm glad to see so many of you here. I would have thought more of you might be in front of a television set watching the British Open, which would be somewhat appropriate, I suppose, considering we're in one of the most historic golf locales in the world, and that one is taking place at the most historic. But we are glad to have you here as we begin the 2015-16 academic year and the 2015 football season.

I'm going to talk about some immediate priorities, both within the conference and as it relates to the national landscape and of course talking about Atlantic Coast Conference football, and then we'll open it up for questions.

Reflecting back and looking ahead, both, I would anticipate and expect this conference to continue to be prominently involved in the new NCAA structure and the new efforts with autonomy. As you know, autonomy gives us the opportunity to address some concerns that are particular to the five conferences. And my feelings on the first year of that new structure is that it has been implemented very, very effectively. I think the first year has been very positive. I think it's off to a great start. When you have all 65 of the schools in the five major conferences together in the same room, and you're including student athletes for the first time with voting privileges, that's historic and I think very, very positive for the future of college athletics.

From a conference level, I really like the engagement and the leadership from this league. We had more presidents in attendance at that autonomy convention than any other conference, 11 of our 14 presidents were in the room and heavily involved. As you know, Nathan Hatch led that effort in chairing the board of directors, Nathan of Wake Forest, and we are very proud of him from a league standpoint for being in that role and doing such a terrific job. And Brad Hostetter, my senior associate commissioner for internal affairs and governance and compliance was heavily involved in the implementation and planning of that initial autonomy convention. Through that, we have established priorities through the Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents in terms of what our league wants to continue to be all about and where we want to go with NCAA autonomy. And in one way or another or probably all are centered around the continued desire to enhance the student athlete opportunities and experiences for our league and for our athletes.

Within the Atlantic Coast Conference this coming year, we'll include even more focus on the athletes' experience. We want to build on the successes of the ACC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee that was formed back in 1998 and seems even more relevant in today's world. We have more student athletes represented on NCAA committees. There will be inclusion of student athletes on a number of our ACC standing committees. Student athletes will be integrated into a number of our league meetings, including October and May, which are our two major business meetings with our Atlantic directors, faculty representatives and SWAs. We have and are in the process of gaining extensive feedback and engagement with our student athletes through a comprehensive survey on their time commitments. We all feel that's an area that needs to be more effectively addressed than it is currently being addressed.

As a consistent priority for the long-term future, we have seen a number of threats to college athletics, as we have known it. And some of those threats still exist in a very real way. My belief is that it's important to preserve the student athlete experience within the context of the larger role of our universities in this country; that what we have in the United States is unique to the world. There's not another country in the world that has a culture where you the combine the highest level of athletics with education. It is a challenge, but it is a challenge that I think is worth preserving and very, very important to an awful lot of young people in our country; and I think very important to the culture of this country, as well. With that said, I think it's vitally important to modernize what we're doing. If we are going to retain it, we have to adjust and we have to modernize it; and we have to retain the fundamentals that are there for the student athlete experience, and we have to retain what I refer to as the college eight model, which the Combines education and athletics.

And quite frankly and candidly, I think we've probably waited too long to make some necessary adjustments, such as cost of attendance. But that's an excellent start. Speaking of adjustments, although I'm really talking about a small percentage of student athletes that fall into the elite category, even in a league that competes for national championships in just about every sport like ours, elite athletes are not that many percentage-wise, but I do think we need to provide better flexibility for them to make good decisions on what their future is when they have professional opportunities. We need to address the complexity facing those student athletes that may have the chance to play at the next level and I think we need to review the current rules to determine if change is needed and more flexibility given to those athletes. We need to assure that they are receiving sound advice from those with the most accurate and thorough information to provide an opportunity for them to make well-informed decisions. My concern right now is that they are so restricted that they go places that they really shouldn't be going to gain help in making those kinds of decisions.

Beyond the scope of the national discussion, I'm really pleased with the position and the potential that we have as a league; and that's a tribute, really, to the leadership at our member schools. We've got 15 institutions that are committed to insuring that the ACC's cornerstones remain at the forefront of every discussion and decision. It's this continued set of league priorities that remains a prominent reason that every school is, one, dedicated to one another; dedicated to the conference itself; and dedicated to the appropriate balance of academics, athletics and integrity. Academically, when you look at our league, we need to continue to be the leaders across all measures of academic success, both specific to student athletes, as well as to the collection of the institutions that make up our membership, whether it's the GSR, the APR, the rankings from the U.S. News and World Report, we have consistently led the autonomy five conferences in those categories and we will make every effort to continue to do so.

Athletically, what this league has been and is all about is providing broad-based programs and championship-calibre programs. And there are some challenges there going forward in order to continue to do that. A number of our ADs are in the room and they know our challenges well. Cost of attendance is the right thing to do but it costs more money. Having championship programs requires significant investments in those programs. And over the past two years, ACC teams have won ten national titles, including football, men's basketball, baseball, men's soccer in both years, women's soccer, men's tennis, men's and women's lacrosse and women's golf. That fact screams nationally competitive and that fact screams broad-based programs, when you look at the breadth of national championships that this league has won. The other cornerstone, academics, athletic competition, the integrity factor. Even through the challenging times and we've had a few these last couple of years; and pending resolutions, our schools remain committed to insuring the appropriate issues are addressed as they move forward and committed to the corner stones that have defined this league for decades.

In the area of health and safety, another very prominently discussed issue with our student athletes. I can't say enough about our institutions. Student athlete health and safety continues to be a top priority for our league and in our league discussions. Our medical group, which is made up of a representative from each institution, and is led by Duke's Dr. T. Mormon, has begun identifying ways to collaborate with each other within the league on injury prevention, treatment, analysis and research.

Pitt is participating in a Department of Defense $30 million research project on concussions, and Virginia Tech has done and is doing extensive research in this area, as well.

Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz of the University of North Carolina will serve on the recently established NCAA Concussion Committee.

Our doctors feel strongly that the institution's medical plans for our student athletes at our respective schools are the best in class. As a league, and personally as a former player, 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.

We feel one way to do that is to expand our efforts and involve our medical people to gather more than we ever have in the past. We know our schools have incredible med schools and we have some top-notch people involved at every institution and their collaboration with our student athletes and our players and advising us in terms of rules and opportunities that may need to be changed and protocols that may need to be changed going forward.

Yesterday, we determined that as a conference, each school will have a medical observer in the press box/press booth area of every football game. That medical observer will be there to observe players from their respective program. This team-specific medical observer will have benefit of knowing the medical history of the players because it will be someone who is involved with them on an ongoing and day-to-day basis. They will travel with the team and observe every game, home and away, conference and non-conference. And the medical observer will not have the authority to stop the game but will have the ability to communicate the medical staff that is on the sidelines.

Each game that we play this fall, there will be two medical people in the booth, one from each school that will have the Seoul purpose of observing from on high, if you will, what's taking place on the field that somebody on the sidelines might not be able to see. But that person will be able to do it in the context of knowing the players and their medical history, and we think that's important and I commend our athletic directors for unanimously approving that yesterday.

I know you are interested in our television going forward and potential of the ACC Championship. We continue to have quality discussions with ESPN, and ESPN is as good a partner as you can possibly have and they will be our partner through at least 2026-27. They bring -- and our other partners -- bring outstanding exposure for our players, for our teams, for our schools and for our league. At some point, as we go through our analysis and discussions and we're being very thorough and deliberate about that, because it's an important long-term decision, but together we'll make a joint decision about the best route to go for the future of our television as we move forward.

It's a very important decision as you know, and I think we have positioned ourselves extremely well as a league for future options, whatever those options may be. So those continue. Now, these days are filled with ACC football and I think there's a lot of reason to look ahead to this season with anticipation.

Scheduling and I've talked about this in past years in terms of the importance of our school scheduling -- they have scheduled those games and we have won our share of those, playing quality teams and winning games is important, obviously, and the last several years gives us I think a platform and success. There is no shortage of specialty games Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, Monday night that give our programs outstanding exposure and we are tremendously pleased with the partners that we work with and the great job that they do in showcasing our coaches, our players and our teams; ESPN, the ACC network and the (inaudible) network, is as good as you can get and our ratings have been very strong with our partners. So we are very pleased with that part of what's happening with Atlantic Coast Conference football.

The culmination of the regular season will again be in Charlotte on the first Saturday in December. That's become kind of a mantra for us in Charlotte and with our teams, the first Saturday in December. That's when we want to be playing in this league, because that's when and where you'll be playing for an ACC Championship.

We are very pleased obviously to have this Florida State in the initial College Football Playoff. Very pleased with Georgia Tech winning the Capital One Orange Bowl. That gives us three straight Orange Bowl wins. Very pleased over the last two years with how our football programs stack up with our brethren in the other power conferences in terms of our won/loss record in College Football Playoff, BCS New Year's games -- it's the most of any conference. I think it came out of the chute as a startup if you will, more successfully than anything I think I've ever witnessed in college athletics -- (inaudible) -- it was just extraordinarily well accepted. It was run extremely well and it will be run extremely well for years to come.

The next season, the 2015 season -- is part of the ACC worldwide initiative, which is something our presidents, ADs and faculty reps are very interested in and we hope to build on that game, in yet another way to provide a quality experience for our student athletes and we hope there will be more of those opportunities and experiences in other sports, as well as football, as we move forward.

ACC football players continue to be recognized in preseason and post-season awards, and former players are having success in -- inaudible -- and also Dennis Hannigan (ph), the new coordinator who will be in this room later today for that meeting opportunity that you will have. We try to make that an annual part of this outing to talk with you and share with you and answer questions about new rules and their implications.

Overall, we have a lot of consistency right now in ACC football, and we have got some solid bases to build from because of their successes of the last several years. 2015 brings more opportunity to build off those successes and hopefully continue the upward trajectory that I think is fair to say is ACC football. So let me stop at that and see if there are any questions.

Q. You mentioned wanting to see where the rules can be changed when student athletes want to turn professional. Nick Saban said he would like to see the NFL Draft deadline for underclassmen changed and moved back. Do you agree with that and what are your thoughts on trying to make changes for those who want to turn pro?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: I'm not ready to talk specifically so much about this, as I wanted to get it out there and on the table in terms of I think it's an area we need to look at, review and we are taking a look at it among other things we need to take a look at. Specifically, whether that's the way to go -- and we are looking at it in terms of all sports, obviously particularly football and basketball. But I think we have got to try and find the right balance in terms of what's best for those athletes and what really works for college athletics and what works for our coaches and our programs and try and find the right sweet spot if we can. With the goal being giving these young people enough freedom and opportunity to get accurate information and to get it from the right people. And often times, that's not happening. You know, there's no easy fixes to it, and every change you make sways one way or the other. But I feel like just in a general sense, we may be being too rigid in that regard with our rules.

Q. You called cost of attendance a good start for the autonomy group. A lot of people around the country including several of your own coaches have expressed some concern about the disparity in the cost of attendance numbers for different schools. Are you comfortable with those differences or are you concerned that they could, indeed, affect recruiting?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: I understand the concerns, and I think any time you take a step like we have taken, you're going to have some discomfort. And I think we're going to need to live with this for a couple of years before we truly see whether those differences impact the decisions that recruits are making. In a perfect world, would that number be the same? Probably, but we don't live in a perfect world and I think we know that. And from a legal standpoint, that cannot exist at the moment. Sometimes you need to do the right thing even though you know it has a few warts, and I think this is the right thing to do. I think we have taken the right step that is entirely appropriate and I think we took it with eyes open, understanding that it wasn't perfect. And we'll see. But I think it's the right thing to do, even with the concerns about the differentials that are there. You don't want good to be -- you don't want perfect -- you don't want good to be the enemy of perfect. And this was the right thing to do.

Q. Seemed like for a decade we talked about the ACC Network -- why hasn't it happened yet?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: You mean a channel? We have a network. A 24/7 channel? I think that we had -- you have to evaluate your own league and where you are in the marketplace, and timing always comes into play, what's happening in the marketplace when your contracts are up. So far, at each turn, our best decision has been to do what basically we've been doing. It's changed over the years -- look at with our partners, and now have the league -- to enhance opportunities, more certainly than we would have otherwise. That's what I meant in my comment that we have positioned ourselves very well. These are long-term visions and I like where they are and I think we will continue aggressively in terms of these discussions to reach a point where our partners and us together, we've got the right format to take us into future decades, literally.

Q. Was there any consideration -- inaudible -- as we've seen over the years?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: We have talked about it and you can't do that on an experiment basis this year. We didn't really see the necessity in that a medical observer should be in talking with the sidelines to either have a time-out called or take a player out of the game. There are a lot of variables so we'll see -- to be some adjustment to that, it will be in future years. This is where we felt was appropriate -- it's probably most similar to what the Pac 12 is probably doing. We feel that it's an excellent place to land in terms of institutional medical people that know the players. We feel like that's really important.

Q. You mentioned the financials. Your most recent tax returns showed a large -- for lack of a better word. Do you foresee a problem in the future? Is this going to become another arm's race for the amounts of money that are out there, and is there a plan or a need to keep up?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: I think there is. We want to keep up -- inaudible -- there are different models. When you go in the channel direction, obviously translates directly to -- if that falls short, those revenue projections change and we've looked at a number of channels and some have started really, really slow and then evolved into something very good. Some have started right out of the chute very quickly and successfully. Some have a lot of fanfare and some -- you have channels that don't have partners and you have some channels that do have partners. We'll just have to see again. I don't think you can be any more analytical or any more thorough in our evaluation with our partners on that issue going forward.

Q. Can you just talk about the first year with Louisville?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Our first-year relationship couldn't be better -- stable over the last.

Q. Budget cuts because of the money they have lost from subscribers. Is that something that both the league and esp in have discussed as it relates to your channel and whether or not these big numbers that are coming in might change over time?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Well, of course, that's part of the discussions and analysis from both of us. I mean, you don't do that without taking into account what the current landscape is and what the current timing is. And in that business, that changes.

Q. Does that worry you?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: No, not particularly. I'm sort of used to it. I mean, it isn't the first time the world has changed in television, and you know, we are working with Wasserman, with our consultant, and Dean Jordan, who is outstanding and was very involved in the negotiations on the College Football Playoff deal and very experienced and has been involved in start-up channels. We've got a partner that knows every possible in and out of the whole industry. So you know, we just need to -- we'll reach an end point at some point in time and believe me, I'll be just as glad as you are, because I know you're very tired of hearing me talk and not say much on that subject. (Laughter) have I been successful on that, talking and not saying --

Q. Very successful. Actually just thinking, going back, one more question about the revenue stuff. One of the things that stuck out to me just in terms of the PR aspect of this has been the conference's last tax return actually just got mentioned in comparison also to some of the other conferences. One of the things that stuck out to me on social media and other places how the figures that are being compared are the Big Ten and SEC, for example, released their 2014-2015 projections whereas the ACC released 2013-2014 tax return, which seems like it's comparing apples and oranges.

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: That's because it is.

Q. I was wondering why though, then, the ACC, knowing that some of the competitors are basically able to sort of -- --

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: It's gotten in other ways, when you talk about television, you have some conferences that have really high expenses that offset those dollars coming in and then you have other conferences that are receiving those dollars straight up. You know, it's understanding the nuances of television -- and that industry from the outside looking in is not easy.

Q. What role does the league play in decisions like that? Do you talk to the schools? What role do you think you should play and are you evaluating whether or not you'll make any changes going forward?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: We discuss those issues and best practices and our athletic directors and presidents do that among themselves as a part of our ACC meetings. Our approach so far, and I don't really see this changing -- departments used to handle situations in which they occur -- more strongly than others in the league about how inappropriate -- and it needs to be addressed head eye on. But we as a conference are really not trying to be big brother in that respect. Our institutions, not just with athletes but they have very appropriate mechanisms on their own conference and on their own campuses to address those situations. You know, if I felt that weren't the case, you know, I'd pick up the phone and have a coverings. But those kinds of behavioral issues are the purview of the individual institutions and it may differ from one institution to another because those institutions may have different processes that they go through. But I've got a lot of confidence in our presidents and our athletic directors that deal with -- that they will deal with those issues very effectively. I think our ADs in the room feel that way. I think our precedents in the room feel that way. If they didn't, I think they would be looking more aggressively for the conference to step in and take that over. But our discussions so far have been that it's appropriate for the institutions to deal with those kinds of issues and we're confident they will be dealt with appropriately.

Q. You said that it does happen -- in the last year how many times have you picked up the phone and had a conversation -- does it happen often? Does it happen rarely?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: No, it doesn't happen often because most of the times those situations are addressed -- steps in is not with regard to off-the-field issues. That's with issues that are out of our -- you know, that are in contrast to ACC policy in regard to competition, games, things that might be said related to the competition, those kinds of things. This league has traditionally not gotten involved in suspensions or issues that happened unrelated to athletics. That's what I'm talking about in terms of those are institutional and our schools to this point prefer that that remain institutional.

Q. In view of the ill feelings that the Big 12 had and had some legitimate cases in the playoffs last year, would you like to see it go to eight teams? Because right now you could always have four spots and five leagues and somebody is going to get jilted almost every year --

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: We almost got through this without -- (Laughter). I'm thrilled that we are at four, and where we are, I think that's where we will be through the duration of this contract. I think it's where we should be because it fits the parameters that the presidents had given us in terms of a playoff. There are two bookends. One are the exams. They don't want a playoff going on during most schools's exams. The other book send they don't want college football to become a two semester sport. You can say the Championship Game is but just barely, but the point is they don't want to go any deeper into January than they currently go. Let me emphasize that I like the four. I think it's where we should be at this given point in time and that's where I think we will be for the next 11 years and I think it's great. In a perfect world, by perfect world -- if you want to talk about football and only about a playoff and what would be best there, yeah, eight would probably be better. And you know, that way, in my mind, you have the five major conference champions and you have three at-large that are chosen and you remedy the -- everybody says one conference is going to be left out. Well be it may be two. It isn't necessarily going to be one. But right now -- that's not in the cards right now. No, you would have to look at playing fewer games before then to do away with conference championship games or play 11 regular-season games instead of 12, something of that nature. It's probably doable. You'd have to adjust a lot of television contracts and maybe down the road, maybe that's something that this evolves into. But please include what I said first (laughs). And I did say something that was substantive there.

Q. I just wanted to ask you, you guys have been sort of beating the drum for an early signing period for a while. Is there any disappointment or frustration that that still has not gotten passed?

COMMISSIONER SWOFFORD: Well, probably a little bit. We've been talking about that for years, and you know, I think where it is now, they this summer decided not to vote it up or down but to send it to the new NCAA committee on football. To put it in the context of the whole recruiting calendar, that the signing date -- we should not change the signing date as a one-off, but look at it in context of the whole recruiting calendar, and that's probably reasonable. It's gotten more support but than I've ever seen for it, and obviously as a conference, we would like to see that happen and hopefully in the next year, that may be the case

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