GREENSBORO — Out front, a banner welcomed people to a new era of ACC football, and inside at the Grandover Resort, site of the ACCs annual football kickoff, league commissioner John Swofford spoke with pride about a future that he believes is brighter than the past.
The ACC on Sunday hosted Day One of its kickoff a made-for-media event starring players, coaches and Swofford and, as expected, Swofford spent much of his state-of-the-league address promoting the potential of the years to come.
There were large welcome to the ACC signs at the lobby entrance for both Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and Swofford attempted to make both schools feel like family. They officially joined the ACC on July 1, along with Notre Dame, which is a full-time ACC member in all sports but football. Next year, Louisville joins the ACC, replacing the departing Maryland.
Amid all the change, though, questions have emerged about the future makeup of ACC football.
Swofford answered questions about how appropriate it was for the ACC to have accepted Notre Dame as a part-time member, and whether the league would consider realigning the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. He also addressed bowl game revenue, and how best to divide it among league members.
All of those issues are a byproduct of the ACCs expanded footprint a phrase Swofford often referenced on Sunday, and usually in glowing terms as it relates to a larger television audience and the potential for population growth in ACC markets. That growth, though, hasnt come without its challenges and critics.
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski earlier this month was the latest to question the fairness of allowing Notre Dame to join the ACC in all sports but football, in which it will remain independent but play five games against ACC teams beginning in 2014. Starting then, Notre Dame will play a partial ACC football schedule, but it will have just as much of a stake as any other league team to the conferences bowl tie-ins.
That was discussed (last September) when the league made the decision to bring Notre Dame in, Swofford said. If they ever do decide that they are going to join a conference in football through the 2026-27 year, that conference by contractual agreement would be the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Im really pleased, and I know the vast majority of people in our league are very pleased that Notre Dame is a part of the ACC family, under the conditions that theyre currently under.
If nothing else, Notre Dames part-time ACC membership has added some football luster to the conference. Most of the players who gathered here on Sunday wont have a chance to play against the Fighting Irish a fact that disappointed some of them.
North Carolina, for instance, will play Notre Dame next season in South Bend, Ind. Bryn Renner, the Tar Heels senior quarterback, wont be around for it.
Its not going to happen while Im here, but being able to watch North Carolina play Notre Dame I think thats going to be great, Renner said. I would have loved to play in South Bend.
Across the table from Renner, UNC defensive end Kareem Martin, a fellow senior who shares the UNC media guide cover with Renner, provided a broader perspective on how Notre Dames arrival might affect ACC football.
I would love to see Notre Dame join the conference full-on playing football, he said. But I know theres other reasons they decided to stay out of football. But I think the fact that theyre playing five ACC games a year is definitely going to help us as a conference.
Presumably, the arrival of Louisville will help the ACCs football profile as well. The Cardinals, who won the Big East a season ago before defeating Florida in the Sugar Bowl, will slide into the ACCs Atlantic Division, Swofford said, when Maryland departs for the Big Ten.
A simple Louisville-for-Maryland swap isnt necessarily a surprise, but it has created further discussion of whether the ACC should realign its football divisions. When Louisville joins the ACC, the already-top-heavy Atlantic Division, with Florida State and Clemson annually vying for supremacy, will become even more so.
But, Swofford said, One of the things we learned from the beginning, when we went to 12 (schools), is that what you think is going to happen competitively doesnt necessarily happen. What you see on paper doesnt necessarily happen on the field.
Swofford didnt say it, but he was likely referring to the ACCs decision to place Florida State and Miami in opposite divisions. When the league did that in 2005, the assumption was that the Seminoles and Hurricanes would play each other regularly in the ACC championship game. Instead, the teams have yet to meet in the title game, and Miami has never won the Coastal Division.
Swofford on Sunday said there has been right much discussion about realigning the ACCs divisions, but he said the leagues membership comes back to the same place, and decides to keep the divisional alignment as is.
That doesnt mean it couldnt change sometime in the future, Swofford said.
One thing that is likely to change: How the ACC disperses bowl revenue to member schools. Swofford said there have been significant discussions about how to divide bowl revenue more fairly and equitably among member schools.
I think it will remain basically an equal share, but how we get to that point of an equal share will change, Swofford said. Just fundamentally, its not right for a team to play in a game and lose money and a team or school not to play in a bowl and come out ahead of the game financially.
Thats what you want to avoid.
When Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame became official ACC members, the league hosted a welcome event in New York City, complete with mascots and photo ops. Again on Sunday, the conferences mood was one of celebration and anticipation.
Even so, there are plenty of questions about what the ACCs new football era will look like, or even if it will be much different than the recent past, which has been marked by on-the-field frustration and a constant fight for national respect.
Those (teams) are going to strengthen the conference, Florida State safety LaMarcus Joyner said. But the ACC still can take a beating in addition to those guys because the guys thats coming havent won a national championship.
So people still can talk bad about the ACC. But its going to be fun to restructure the conference with better competition.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter