Four days of meetings and a Wednesday flurry of interviews rendered John Swofford’s voice weak. But the ACC’s veteran commissioner insisted, despite speculation to the contrary, that his conference remains strong.
As the league concluded its annual spring meetings at Amelia Island, Fla., Swofford addressed for the first time the firestorm that erupted over the weekend regarding 11-time ACC football champion Florida State possibly bolting to the Big 12.
Opinions, statements and/or rants from Florida State Board of Trustees chairman Andy Haggard, university president Eric Barron, media knotheads and fans of every stripe burst into cyberspace. Good thing Swofford isn’t on Twitter, where Chicken Littles, with no basis in fact, forecasted the ACC’s demise.
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“It hasn’t affected our meetings and business sessions,” Swofford said. “The work here has been pretty much business as usual. I’ve had a conversation or two with Dr. Barron. Very positive ones. Beyond that, it hasn’t been anything that interfered with or hijacked our meetings. We’re moving forward implementing what needs to be implemented for a 14-team conference.”
Indeed, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh arriving from the Big East either in 2013 or ’14, ACC officials finalized a five-day format for the conference’s future men’s and women’s basketball tournaments: Seeds 11-14 will play two opening-round games Wednesday, with the winners advancing into the 12-team bracket used for the past seven seasons.
Moreover, officials approved a nine-game conference football schedule rotation in which Coastal Division teams will play five league contests at home in even-numbered years, while Atlantic Division programs play five at home in odd-numbered seasons.
Finally, the ACC unveiled its preferred format for a four-team football playoff: Conference champions only, with the games staged within the bowl system rather than on-campus or for-bid neutral sites.
But for media and fans, the overarching issue was and is Florida State, historically the ACC’s premier football brand but one that hasn’t cracked the final Associated Press top 10 since 2000.
“We live in a world in college athletics today where periodically these kinds of things, for one reason or another, seem to surface,” Swofford said.
The reason this time was Haggard’s now-infamous tantrum to Warchant.com, a website that covers the Seminoles, regarding the ACC’s new media rights package with ESPN. His inaccuracies about the contract favoring basketball powers such as Duke and North Carolina — didn’t Florida State win the 2012 ACC basketball tournament? — prompted Barron to correct the record and detail the ACC’s athletic and academic virtues.
“We can't afford to have conference affiliation be governed by emotion — it has to be based on a careful assessment of athletics, finances and academics,” Barron wrote in a widely distributed email. “I assure you that every aspect of conference affiliation will be looked at by this institution, but it must be a reasoned decision.”
Is Barron Florida State’s ultimate power broker? The board? Who’s in charge here? Anyone seen the ghost of Al Haig?
At the ACC’s preseason basketball media gathering in October, Swofford proudly reminded folks that since the conference’s 1953 founding, South Carolina in 1971 is the only school to leave. Is Swofford, on the job since 1997, confident that will remain the case long-term?
“I don’t have reason not to be,” he said. “The world is what it is. We’ve got 12, and set to be 14, schools that I think buy into what the Atlantic Coast Conference has been and is in terms of its cornerstones, and the balance of athletics and academics and integrity. I think some times some people get so caught up in the financial side of it, that they think that’s all it is. While that’s extremely important, it’s not all-encompassing.”
For example, ESPN affords the ACC unprecedented exposure for all its sports on myriad platforms. But many obsess on money, and you know some Florida State boosters chafe over Florida raking in more cash from the SEC than the Seminoles do from the ACC -- no matter that SEC football is superior.
Yes, the ACC will trail the SEC, Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Big 12 in television money, but impartial sources far more learned than I believe Swofford negotiated fair market value for his conference. Whether that’s good enough for Florida State remains to be seen.
“I think we continue to be very well-positioned,” Swofford said, “and will be even more so when Syracuse and Pitt join us. So we’re moving ahead based on the 14-member league we anticipate.”
Look for much more from Swofford in a post later this evening.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP