CRAWFORD | ACC, Swofford enjoying view from top as baseball championship visits Louisville
After arguably the conference's best season ever, ACC commissioner John Swofford is excited about its future, and talked about it Tuesday in an interview with WDRB.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In college sports, the view from the top never lasts long – but it’s grand while you’re there. Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford should know.
In an upper-deck suite at Louisville Slugger Field – where the league is holding its annual Baseball Championship this week -- he surveyed his conference’s past and future in an interview with WDRB on Tuesday.
The ACC is wrapping up what may well have been the best season in its history. North Carolina is men’s basketball champion. Clemson is the College Football Playoff champ. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson won the Heisman trophy, beating out ACC rival Deshaun Watson of Clemson.
“It’s been a great year, without question, and it really began even before we started competing last year, and it all began with the grant of rights that all our schools signed last fall, bonding all our schools and our league together until at least the 2035-36 season, and that led us to the new contract with ESPN, which will lead to our launching an ACC ESPN channel in 2019,” Swofford said.
“It was the best football season our league has ever had, and the best of any league in the country this past year, culminating with a national championship for Clemson, and then another outstanding basketball season and a championship in men’s basketball. Anytime any league wins a national championship in football and men’s basketball in a single year, you have to put it in the outstanding category. So it’s been a good year for the league.”
And it may not be over. The ACC baseball contingent that has descended on Louisville includes two teams – North Carolina and Louisville – ranked in the top five nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index, and five others in the Top 20.
The baseball tournament had been booked for Durham, N.C., when the ACC pulled its championship events out of the state of North Carolina over its controversial House Bill 2, a piece of legislation it found not in keeping with league values with regard to bathroom use based on birth gender. A portion of that law was repealed on March 30, leading the ACC to return to the state with its championships.
But Louisville will get its shot this year. Swofford said that the reception so far for ACC baseball programs and officials has been tremendous, and that Louisville, the school and university, should have the opportunity to deal themselves into future events if they choose. The ACC baseball tournament will be played in Durham in the next two seasons.
“Early indications are that, coming into Louisville for this tournament and this facility here and the welcome mat that has been put out and the cooperation of the university and the cooperation of the Bats, the reception has just been great,” Swofford said. “The facility is outstanding. So assuming the city may want this back at some time, I would think it would be strongly considered. Our institutions ultimately make those decisions.”
North Carolina is the league’s geographic center, and always will be. But Swofford said the occasional foray into other areas is beneficial, and that he’s glad to see this event coming to Louisville.
“Our league is very different now,” he said. “We used to be a nine-member league, and four of those nine were in one state. Now we’re a 15-member league in 10 different states. . . . I think this is a real opportunity to further connect the Louisville athletic brand with the ACC, and anytime we have an opportunity to do that, we want to take advantage of it. We’re really appreciative of the city and university for having us. I love coming to Louisville. Many of our fans I’ve talked to coming to Louisville. The marriage between the University of Louisville, and therefore the city, with the Atlantic Coast Conference, has been a terrific one and a win-win, which is what it should be. So we’re really pleased. This is the first ACC championship to be played in Louisville, and we’ll be back in the fall with men’s and women’s cross country, as well as field hockey. And all of that I think just enhances the connection between Louisville and the ACC.”
Swofford said he’s unconcerned that recent cutbacks at ESPN could affect the league’s TV deal with the network. “They assured us those were totally unrelated,” he said. And while he’s keeping an eye on events around U of L – and not just on the field – he’s happy with Louisville’s addition to the league.
As for baseball, Swofford said the chase of the Southeastern Conference for baseball supremacy may be over.
“I feel like we’ve caught them,” Swofford said. “No disrespect, but I feel like our league is as good in baseball as any league in the country. I’ve felt that for the last four or five years.”
It will be on display all weekend at Louisville Slugger Field.
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