GREENSBORO — The offseason is coming, but it’s anything but smooth sailing into summer for Commissioner John Swofford and the ACC.
With the league full-speed ahead toward the launch of the long-awaited ACC Network in August, there’s plenty on Swofford’s plate as he and the league continue to navigate the changing world of college athletics.
Here’s what was on Swofford’s mind as he met with journalists today during the Associated Press Sports Editors’ annual regional meeting at the ACC headquarters:
With just more than three months until its launch on Aug. 22, the ACC Network remains the top focus of those around the league as distribution deals are worked out, programming decisions are made and talent is hired.
“We don’t think we could be in any better shape for that than we are right now,” Swofford said. “I would say everything is on schedule.”
The ACC made a splash in March when it rolled out the first of its carriers and already has deals in place with DirecTV, Google Fiber, Hulu Live TV, Optimum, PlayStation Vue, Suddenlink and Verizon Fios, among a host of local carriers.
Among the big-name national carriers that have yet to reach a deal with Disney, parent company of ESPN, for the ACC Network are Comcast, Charter, Dish Network and AT&T U-verse.
Because of the nature of television carriage deals, it’s likely several of those deals could be announced near the launch date, and that’s something for which Swofford and the ACC are prepared. One thing the conference learned from watching other conferences launch their networks was ensuring they had proper leverage in the marketplace, and Swofford feels that the ACC Network has that in partnering with ESPN.
"Mickey Mouse carries a lot of weight,” he said.
It hasn’t been easy for Swofford to see the ongoing college basketball corruption trials, with the names of several prominent programs, players and coaches popping up on wiretaps.
“I don’t have a good feeling any time I hear basketball and trials in the same sentence,” Swofford said. “The sooner the truth of all that can come out, the sooner what needs to be addressed — specifically —can be addressed in terms of what has happened, and we can have a sense of what needs to be different going forward to keep it from happening again.”
The Rice Commission announced its recommendations in April 2018, and in August several changes were enacted with the goal of reducing the influence of shoe-sponsored grassroots basketball and giving elite prospects more access to agents, among others.
Swofford would like to see how the current recruiting cycle plays out before evaluating the success of the changes.
“My guess is that there will be some changes and alterations, simply because I'm not sure you can move that quickly and get everything 100 percent right,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
Bet on it
In March, the ACC’s Council of Presidents came to the consensus that it would request states to “carve out” college athletics in their states as legalized gambling becomes more prevalent across the nation.
Since the 2018 Supreme Court ruling that allowed New Jersey to legalize sports betting, Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have joined Nevada.
In March, House Bill 302 was introduced in the North Carolina legislature to allow for “wagering on sporting events on tribal lands.”
If gambling is legalized in any states that are home to an ACC school, the conference will push for standardized regulations across the league's 10 states.
Meanwhile, the league will focus on educating players, coaches, trainers, academic advisers and anyone else who might be close to programs.
“Any of those people can be targeted for information that could affect what happens in a game, and that’s a scary part of this,” Swofford said. “It’s a new world that’s probably coming our way and we’ve got to do our part to maintain the integrity of the game.”
While the ACC would prefer that sports betting not come to its back yard, it’s being realistic.
“Somebody is going to make a lot of money on this,” Swofford said. “Is it appropriate for the institution or the conference or the NCAA to try to monetize that? To monetize the gambling — off the backs of our athletes in an educational model — which is a pretty fundamental, philosophical question.”