ACC leaves annual spring meetings with eye on network launch

ACC commissioner John Swofford met with the media Wednesday morning in Charlotte.
ACC commissioner John Swofford met with the media Wednesday morning in Charlotte. USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of talking, especially about the conference’s new cable network, during the ACC spring meetings but not a lot of action.

The ACC’s 15 schools hit a lot of topics — from the NCAA’s potential willingness to allow athletes to profit from their own name, image and/or likeness to legalized gambling — this week in Amelia Island, Fla.

ACC commissioner John Swofford, who had a press conference on Thursday to wrap up the meetings, announced the conference will hold a mental health and wellness summit in Durham next week.

He also extolled the launch of the ACC Network, which is coming on Aug. 22. Other than that, Swofford had to point out the obvious.

“There’s not a lot actually to walk out of that meeting and walk in and share with you,” Swofford said. “It wasn’t that type of meeting.”

The league started planning for two-day health and wellness summit last year, Swofford said, and it will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday in Durham. Six athletes from each of the 15 schools will attend.

It’s a chance to educate and “share best practices” about mental health and the pressures and stress college athletes have to handle.

“One of the things that we consistently hear from our coaches and our student-athletes is the significant challenge they have and ways they need counseling and how to handle the pressures that go along with being a college athlete in today’s world,” Swofford said.

The summit will coincide with the start of the ACC baseball tournament in Durham. The conference hasn’t found a new home yet for its baseball tournament, Swofford said, after the International League effectively eliminated Durham, Louisville and Charlotte as options.

“Durham has been good to us,” Swofford said.

The Durham Bulls Athletic Park is set to host the tournament next week for the ninth time since 1998. The tournament will have to find a new home in 2020 with Greensboro as a convenient option. Swofford said there was progress made on finding a host site.

“We addressed a lot of our championships here,” Swofford said. “We’ve got a ‘T’ to cross and an ‘I’ to dot here or there but in a couple of weeks, we’ll announce not only that, but a number of other championships as well.”

The launch of the ACC Network occupied much of the commissioner and the school’s coaches and athletic directors this week in Florida.

“In a sense, it was business as usual, but then again it wasn’t because we’re within 100 days of the launch of the network,” Swofford said. “There’s a sense of excitement, without question.”

The ACC is playing catch-up to its Power 5 brethren, in terms of its own linear cable option, but that might turn out to be a positive. Multi-million dollar on-site studios, at each ACC campus, have been constructed and ESPN has had the benefit of learning from its own challenges with the Longhorn Network and, to a lesser extent, the SEC Network.

Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and scheduling, was with Swofford for the press conference on Thursday. Magnus said the recent success of the ACC— which boasts the national champion in football and men’s basketball for the second time in three years — is now “perfectly situated from a timing perspective” for the network launch.

“This is not just a football network, not just a basketball network,” Magnus said. “It’s all of that and more.”

Clemson, the 2018 national champions, will open the football schedule on the ACC Network on Aug. 29 with a home game against Georgia Tech. There are still distribution deals with cable providers, to be worked out, but Swofford was confident everything will be in place by August.

“From our perspective, things are right where they should be and right where you’d expect it to be,” Swofford said.

The commissioner, in his 22nd year with the ACC, also touched on a number of other topics, including:

The NCAA’s formation of a working group to figure out how athletes can be compensated for the use of the name/image/likeness:

“We haven’t formed a conference position, per se, on it at this time. There’s a willingness and openness to explore that and to see if it’s something that can work from a practical standpoint.”

On the transfer “portal” and the increase in player movement in basketball and football:

“The realities of how it has changed the student-athlete’s world. Is it working to everyone’s benefit?

“I’m not sure that’s even good for a lot of the athletes because of the realities we are starting to see there.”

On his concern if the ACC, as a 15-team league, has lost some of its culture:

“Now that we’ve been together as 15 schools, the obvious answer to that is we haven’t. The things we cherish, that you can’t just reach out and touch, have really been maintained. I can’t tell you what that means to a conference.”