CRAWFORD | Swofford talks Louisville hoops sanctions, other items at ACC Football Kickoff
ACC commissioner John Swofford talked about Louisville's basketball sanctions, "Wakeyleaks" fallout, the ACC Network and other league issues at the ACC's annual football media days.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDRB) – The Atlantic Coast Conference doesn’t want to rest on last season’s laurels. But it does plan to enjoy them at least a little bit longer. The 2017 ACC Football Kickoff provided an opportunity for a show of force by the league, and it took advantage.
Reporters ascending the elevator to the entrance to the ACC’s football media days at the Charlotte Westin were greeted by the Heisman Trophy and the College Football Playoff championship trophy, both of which reside with the ACC for the second time in four years after Louisville’s Lamar Jackson took the Heisman (over Clemson’s Deshaun Watson) and Clemson knocked off Alabama for the national title.
ACC commissioner John Swofford ran down the list: “We're coming off a year that included Clemson's College Football Playoff National Championship, 11 bowl teams, all that finished with winning records, which led all conferences, Lamar Jackson's Heisman Trophy, and Deshaun Watson finishing second in that voting; nine postseason wins, including another Orange Bowl trophy, setting a league record and tying the national record ever for any conference, and the nation's best record against both non-conference and other Power Five conference opponents.”
But that doesn’t mean the league is in cruise control. It is dealing with high-profile men’s basketball scandals at North Carolina and Louisville. It held discussions with its members in the offseason after a bizarre episode in which one league member (Louisville) was found to be in improper possession of game-plan information of another (Wake Forest), and it continues to move forward on implementing an ACC Network, in conjunction with ESPN, even if the media landscape appears increasingly uncertain and details are hard to come by.
Some highlights of those issues and more Swofford talked about with reporters on Thursday:
1). NCAA ISSUES. Louisville recently was hit with four years of probation, Rick Pitino handed a five-game suspension and the program asked to vacate four seasons’ worth of victories as penalties in a sex-for-recruits scandal. Swofford said he wouldn’t comment on the sanctions specifically, but noted that the school has every right to appeal the penalties if it feels they’re excessive.
“I’m not going to be specific about it,” Swofford said when asked. “I was surprised by some of it, not surprised by other aspects of it. We really don’t get into commenting about our opinion on that, certainly not when it’s still in the process. You’re asked not to by the NCAA while the process is still going on. . . . Everybody has the opportunity to appeal. That’s an entirely appropriate response from the University of Louisville, if that’s how they feel about their situation. That’s why there’s an appeals process set up.”
During the question and answer session before the event with the entire assembled media, one reporter asked Swofford: “Obviously the league had some black eyes during that same time, whether it was the Louisville basketball scandal and what they were willing to do to get recruits or the ongoing North Carolina academic saga or WikiLeaks showed what people in this league are willing to stoop to to try to win a football game. How do you deal with the challenges as a commissioner of trying to maintain the pursuit of athletic success but without it coming at a cost to the league's reputation?”
Swofford said that those instances, and others, didn’t reflect the values of the league or institutions, but rather individuals at institutions who did the wrong things. He said the league reiterates its values to its members, and that each member involved with violations participates in a league-wide discussion of its experience and how it might be prevented In the future.
“Most of the time, without getting into particular sessions, it's not an entire institution,” Swofford said. “It gets perceived, I guess, as an entire institution, when most of the time it's a few people that made some bad decisions. . . . I don't want any of those things on our plate. That's -- and historically, we haven't had many in this league, relatively speaking and historically. But we've had some, from the very beginning, because it's -- intercollegiate athletics is a passionate world. It's a world that plays out very publicly. It's a world with more and more pressure to win, and there are human beings that are in all of these roles, and unfortunately us human beings make mistakes sometimes. Sometimes they're little ones; sometimes they're big ones. It would be nice not to have any of those.”
Swofford was asked after his news conference how much longer he foresees the North Carolina academic issues with the NCAA coming to a conclusion, he said, “It’ll end when it ends. Looking at the history of that, I wouldn’t venture to predict an endpoint.
2). “WAKEYLEAKS” FALLOUT. Swofford wouldn’t give a great deal of detail, but he said the case of a Wake Forest radio analyst and former assistant coach providing improper game plan information to Louisville and others did come up as a topic in postseason discussions, and give the league a chance to reiterate its stance on how such things should be handled.
“Nobody had ever seen or heard of anything quite like that, I don’t think. I guess there’s a first time for everything,” Swofford said. “So there was discussion about it and it went along the lines you would expect. First of all, totally inappropriate. Secondly, if you find something like that you need to communicate with each other immediately and with the conference office. Those kinds of discussions.”
3). ACC NETWORK. Swofford acknowledged that there’s a great deal of speculation on how the ACC Network will look when it launches with ESPN in 2019, but that details – including financial arrangements -- aren’t yet at the point of being released. He said it was safe to assume that the ACC’s deal with ESPN would be on a similar financial foundation as ESPN’s deal with the SEC, but that there would be differences.
“There have been several things written and speculated about the network in recent weeks,” Swofford said. “I'm sure some of you may have questions related to the network, but I trust you will understand that we're at a stage in our timetable and process with ESPN where it's simply not going to be prudent for us to discuss until we reach the launch, the specific business aspects that are a work in progress.”
When asked if league presidents or athletic directors have expressed concern over financial details, especially those who have proceeded with ambitious plans based on expected revenue increases, Swofford said he saw no cause for concern.
“Our schools are tremendously bullish on the future of our league, and that television agreement is an important part of our future as a league,” Swofford said.
4). DIVISIONAL REALIGNMENT. Despite the ACC’s Atlantic Division including both Clemson and Florida State, along with Louisville, Swofford said that realigning the league’s division or football structure isn’t a high-priority issue.
“We haven't really talked about divisions in several years now,” Swofford said. “ There for a while, we talked about it and how to schedule every meeting. So I think right now where we are, things have settled in both in terms of how we schedule and in terms of the divisions, and you know, divisions can change. We all know that. Right now -- and if you look at -- surprisingly, to some, if you look at over the years the head-to-head competition with the Atlantic and Coastal, it's very close to .500. It's not imbalanced. But you know, we'll keep looking at it, but I wouldn't anticipate any change in the near future.”
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