Quieter ACC spring meetings dominated by TV talk of a different kind

UNC’s Larry Fedora and other ACC coaches aren’t a fan of a recruiting calendar change that will allow prospects to take official visits in the spring.
UNC’s Larry Fedora and other ACC coaches aren’t a fan of a recruiting calendar change that will allow prospects to take official visits in the spring. rwillett@newsobserver.com

The ACC spring meetings ended on Thursday without the sort of intrigue and mystery that for so long has been a part of these gatherings. Last year, and even in the years before, the questions were all about the ACC Network – would it exist and when.

In previous years, the questions were about the overall health of the conference – its place in a changing, football-centric college sports world. In the years before that, the questions were about growth and possible expansion and conference realignment.

By comparison, these meetings have been dull. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The ACC is coming off arguably its best year ever, with national championships in football and men’s basketball. The conference has never been wealthier. The ACC Network, league and school officials insist, is indeed on track for a 2019 launch. There is no speculation of realignment or expansion.

If you want to know just how much of a good life the ACC is living these days, consider this: The most contentious, “important” topic the league’s football coaches discussed this week was arguably the altered recruiting calendar that allows for prospects to take official visits in the spring.

None of the coaches like it, essentially, because it means they’ll lose a few weekends they might otherwise have spent doing something else. Like watching film. Or, um, watching film. Or … studying film. Or maybe even taking the occasional day off they’ll now have to spend with a prospect.

ACC coaches are passionately against the move. It hardly registers beyond their world, though. Remember those times when coaches spent parts of these meetings discussing interesting things like the possibility of realigning the divisions, or playing a ninth conference game? Those were the days.

“Not even brought up,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said on Wednesday of whether anyone even broached rearranging the Coastal and Atlantic Divisions. “I think that’s dead.”

Alas. Coaches, athletic directors and other administrators still met here for three days. Stuff did happen.

And so here’s a rundown of the high points of these considerably quieter spring meetings:

1. Everyone is gung-ho about the launch of the ACC Network.

You’d have better luck convincing Roy Williams that these meetings are a worthy use of his time than convincing anyone here that there’s anything to worry about regarding the ACC Network. The standard line from coaches and athletic directors alike: The network will launch as planned in 2019, it will be profitable and there’s no reason to worry about anything because ESPN has it under control.

Now, these are rough times for ESPN, which recently laid off approximately 100 people. The company is trying to adapt in an era in which media consumption habits are drastically changing. Fewer and fewer are buying cable TV. The audience consumes sports media in ways that weren’t conceivable a decade ago. The rate of change continues to accelerate.

If ACC coaches and administrators are worried about any of this, it hasn’t shown here this week. The attitude surrounding the launch of the network in these changing times has been one of, “What, me worry?” Indeed, there are questions about the network – ones about what it will look like and how profitable it will be. But no one seems to doubt that it’s coming, or that it will be successful.

2. Building on success.

If you like humble modesty, the Ritz-Carlton hasn’t been the place for you this week (and maybe it’s not the place for you ever – more on that in a minute). The ACC is on top, knows it’s on top and so there’s been a lot of conversation about how to keep it that way.

It’s a much different attitude than what might have been here five years ago, before this football renaissance. There was a time, not long ago, when this conference was fighting for football relevancy and attempting to shed the perception that its teams couldn’t compete nationally at the highest level.

Then Florida State won a national championship in 2013. And Clemson won it last year. And, in between, ACC teams began holding their own – or more – against teams from other Power 5 leagues, including the SEC.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher earlier this week called the ACC “the best league in ball.” Fedora said, “We feel like there’s no doubt that the ACC is the strongest football conference in the country.” During the past five years the ACC has climbed the proverbial football mountain.

Now it attempts to stay. Or find another peak.

3. The importance of smart football scheduling.

As David Teel of the Newport News Daily Press reported before these meetings began, football coaches and ESPN’s representatives here did indeed discuss the all-important topic of providing top-flight “inventory” to coincide with the launch of the ACC Network in 2019.

In other words: The TV people want to make sure that there are some attractive games when the 2019 season begins. Part of the problem is that several schools already have lower-profile nonconference games scheduled for early in the 2019 season.

ESPN, meanwhile, wants higher-profile conference games early that season, including on the first weekend. Said Fedora: “Whether you like having to play a conference opponent early in the season, you may not like it – but overall it’s going to be great for the league.”

Fedora and his fellow coaches this week did discuss the possibility of making some league games permanent fixtures in the calendar, played the same weekend, or close to it, year after year. The SEC uses a similar approach, with some rivalry games played annually at the same point in the schedule.

Such an approach is more challenging in the ACC given the desire for scheduling flexibility with the launch of the ACC Network. Both the league and the network want to maximize the opportunity of having attractive games spread over the entirety of the schedule.

4. Putting on the ritz.

As always, the ACC has been the guest of honor this week at the lovely, opulent Ritz-Carlton, which is maybe a few hundred yards from the ocean. And so, if you’re wondering, here are some things that make you know you’re at the Ritz:

▪ The nightly price tag. It’s more than $500 per night to stay here, at the currently-posted rate. Which means you can spend two nights, eat and drink nothing, spend no money on any activities and you’re still not leaving for less than $1,000.

▪ The smell in the lobby. It smells resplendent. It smells like the walls are lined with potpourri. It smells like a field of fragrant wildflowers, filled with an army of rose bouquets, all dripping with honey that has been sprayed with some sort of magical perfume. Yes, it smells good in the lobby.

▪ Orange Himalayan Salt Scrub. Complimentary in the rest rooms. Take a little spoonful and massage your hands for about a minute or so. Pretty life-changing, actually.

▪ Kind Bars for $4 in “The Sundry” and a turkey burger (a good turkey burger, mind you, but still a turkey burger) for $16. You know how during the Masters, Augusta National cuts people a break and doesn’t overcharge like it could for various concessions? Yeah, that’s not the Ritz.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter