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ACC KICKOFF Q&A: Jim Phillips Talks ACC Network, NIL, more

July 21, 2021

ACC commissioner Jim Phillips met with the media at the 2021 ACC Football Kickoff.  Here is a collection of his comments from the forum.

On vaccinations, can you give us an idea of where ACC football teams right now in terms of hitting the 85% threshold are? Several other conferences have already announced that they are not rearranging schedules. If a team can't play, they will have to forfeit. Wondering why the ACC is still waiting to make a decision on that.

We had a chance to get with our athletic directors yesterday. We have over half of our group above that 85% threshold with several others on the cusp. We all feel like that's a reasonable target across the ACC. So those are numbers as of yesterday.

Then overall from a student-athlete population, that number is even higher according to those schools, the data that they have currently.

As it relates to not making a declaration about if it's going to be a cancellation or a forfeit, we all really wanted to wait a couple more weeks or so. I think there's some more information that we're going to be able to gather. I think we'll understand the variant a little bit.

It's really the recommendation of our medical group along with our ADs and our presidents. There's direct alignment that at least this week we didn't need to make that kind of statement.

It will be forthcoming. We certainly will be transparent when that decision is made and let everybody know.

Now with the rule allowing players to take advantage of the name, likeness and images, what are your thoughts on it? Are you all coming up with any courses to help the players out, knowing they're dealing with so much amount of money?

So let me just state a little bit. I can't tell you how proud I am of our 15 schools and how they navigated this uncharted territory over the last six, eight, twelve months to what eventually came to fruition on July 1st.

There's been constant education going on on our campuses. The ACC office itself tries to help supplement some of the questioning. There's been education across, again, our footprint.

The success stories are many. We're seeing all of it around the country. I think it makes all of us feel a sense of gratification that we can do this thing. But we have some real challenges ahead if we don't get national legislation. I want to speak about that.

I think there's incredible opportunities for our student-athletes coming. But we need a national standard. Everyone expects us to play a national competition schedule. We go all over the 50 states. Not having a national standard will cause major disruption. You are already seeing across the country the wide-ranging disparity at times, depending on what state you're in, what people are able to do. So that's one.

Second is we have to have some help on anti-trust. We can't sustain constant litigation to the enterprise of college athletics. That has to be wrapped into it.

I think the third element for name, image and likeness for us as we look into the future is what can we do to help our student-athletes once they leave school from a medical standpoint. Can we provide some additional medical care for them. Can we mandate that two, three years, whatever that looks like over a period of time. Some schools are doing it, but we certainly don't have uniformity across 351 schools at least at the Division I level.

Can we mandate also an opportunity for all student-athletes to come back to school. That can be wrapped into this legislation.

Finally, it can't be a recruiting advantage. It just can't. The equity from those resources have to be equally distributed. Most of our student-athletes, the 500,000 that compete nationally, are Olympic sports student-athletes. So that continues to be the mantra and call.

What I hope doesn't happen is that because we've had some success here, we've seen these great stories of student-athletes being able to use, rightly so, just like students, their name, image and likeness, that we lose the sense of urgency.

In our conference we have four schools with state legislation -- or four states with state legislation, we have two with state directives, and we have four that rely on the NCAA rule. You can see within our 15 schools and our 10 states there's an unevenness to what student-athletes can do. I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes. We need federal help. I think that we'll get it. But I hope it's sooner rather than later.

As you look to the future of the NCAA itself, what is your preference for how you would like to see the NCAA evolve or devolve as it were? Do you still have confidence in Mark Emmert to lead it?

So, I would say this. This is the right time to have a complete holistic review of the NCAA, leadership, structure, what do we want to do moving forward.

There's been so many things that have happened in our space here that the timing is right. No predetermined outcomes. Let's take a look.

When I look at what we really are super reliant on from an Indianapolis perspective, governance, what is the governance structure, do we have the right governance structure, one size fits all. Is the council working. They're working incredibly hard, but is that the right structure. Again, all sizes, shapes within 351.

Championships? We've had a couple issues this year with championships. It's the thing our student-athletes love to do. So an assessment there, championships.

Then enforcement. I'm getting ready to go in August with out of our schools to Indianapolis. Some of those student-athletes on that team that will be subjected to whatever penalties potentially could be handed down were in middle school, were in middle school. So timeliness, fairness in the system.

That being said, the NCAA also has done a lot of great things and continues to do some really good work. So this thing isn't dumped on Indianapolis. I think we all have our fingerprints on the responsibility we have as leaders, whether it's commissioners or athletic directors or presidents.

Again, this would be a great time. President Emmert has kind of called for it, a recalibration of the NCAA. I think we should take him up on that opportunity and let's work collaboratively with the NCAA, with our conferences, with our presidents, athletic directors and such. Let's spend the next eight, twelve months figuring this thing out. More changes are coming.

You posted your announcement about the Virginia Tech-Notre Dame game on social media. Fans are frustrated. They rely on Comcast, can't get the network. Any progress made in the deal? Many areas in our state, that's our only option. Can you speak to the progress that's been made on possibly getting it before the season?

It's one of the top priorities I've had. I've been to Bristol. Had some great conversations with Jimmy Pitaro, Burke Magnus and the group. We have a tremendous relationship.

Distribution is critical for us. When I visited those 15 institutions, that was kind of the cry of all of our schools, is how do we get distribution wider. I think we have a great plan coming up. A lot of the carriers and providers, including Comcast, renewals coming up this late summer and into the fall. I think we're making tremendous progress with them.

Those frustrations are real. We'll never be the conference that we need to be until we get some of those issues taken care of.

I think we have a great strategy. It's been top of point every conversation we've had with our TV partners. They understand it. They get it. So we're hopeful to make a big dent in the distribution piece coming up.

Jack Swarbrick said if the 12-team playoff goes through, he likes the setup for Notre Dame. It removes the imperative of having to play in a conference championship to have access to a national championship. How would you assess the sort of role of Notre Dame and the ACC going forward? If there isn't any possibility at any point that Notre Dame would potentially give up football independence? How do you sort of assess that relationship as it's working now? You have the Notre Dame logo behind you, and they're not here.

Listen, I guess I'll work present time to past to maybe to the future. I'll jump around a little bit.

I think we all got a glimpse of what would be like to have Notre Dame in the conference this past fall. That was a really beautiful and beneficial relationship to both Notre Dame and the ACC. They had a chance to play a fantastic schedule. They had a chance to vie for a national championship and compete in the CFP. We have a real-life example of what that could look like.

When I look back, obviously I've spent time there. I think I have close ties there. I have a student-athlete son there and a daughter. So I think I know the institution pretty well. Led by a terrific president in John Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick.

In 2013 when they joined the league, they declared they were exciting about being in in all their sports, but they valued independence greatly. I respect that. The old kind of quip is, Notre Dame loves two things: one is being Catholic, second is independence. Sometimes those things get in reverse order. Sometimes they like independence even more than being Catholic. That was supposed to be a joke, but it didn't go over very well (smiling).

They know the ACC's interest. It's been less than bashful. It's been less than bashful since I've been here. But I also respect where they're at. I respect where we're at. Our concentration right now is on our 14 schools.

Who knows where the future's going to go. But I love the group of schools that we have. You always have to be ready to add. Notre Dame, contractually, if they were to join a conference, again structured by Commissioner Swofford in 2013, would join the ACC. That's where we're at. Appreciate the question. We'll see where this goes.

Back to the vaccines. Many schools, including Notre Dame, are implementing athletes, students, having to be vaccinated. Would you encourage that to your institutions? If not, some kind of protocol similar to what the NFL is doing with greatly encouraging their players to get vaccinated?

We are encouraging. It's split. We have seven institutions where it's mandated to be a student on campus, you have to get vaccinated. It's not just split according to what you may believe, just publics and privates. Virginia Tech is a perfect example being a public in the state of Virginia, what they've done.

There's no question that there will be a higher probability to be able to play for student-athletes if they're vaccinated. I mean, you can just sense it and see it and feel it. Our policies are going in that direction, too, though we're not ready to announce them today at the request of the medical advisory group.

If you're vaccinated, it's going to take you out of contact tracing issues and such. As a medical experts have indicated, those that are vaccinated are subject to getting the virus at a much lower, lower level than those that don't.

I believe in being vaccinated. I have a family of healthcare workers that have been on the front lines. But it's about us educating our student-athletes. Again, I stand by my opening comments. It's such a personal decision. So student-athletes have to figure out what's best for them. We're all hopeful that we can go through a season without any cancellation or forfeitures of any of our contests in any of our sports and that our student-athletes can stay healthy and safe.

I know you spoke a little bit about this at the spring meetings about the transfer portal and the conferences' and coaches' concerns. Can you go into that a little bit more? What is exactly your concerns as the commissioner going forward with that, the issues it's caused this year, especially in men's basketball? 

It's likened to a game of musical chairs. That's what worries me, the music stops, there's not enough chairs, seats, scholarships for those in the transfer portal.

But the freedom of movement won out on that decision. I completely agree with that. I know as a former coach really early in my career how difficult that can be when it comes to rosters, when it comes to roster management, maybe life lessons, when things get tough, you can't just bounce out and go somewhere else.

So we're working through it as a league, understanding what it looks like in the different sports. As mentioned with 27 sports, there's a different flow for the transfer experience. Some of our sports are -- that are at a higher percentage of student-athletes transferring than some other Olympic sports.

I don't think we have enough data yet to declare one way or another how we help this thing. But I think it goes back to recruiting and us doing the very best job that we can to identify the prospects that fit our institutions. So more work to come on that.

Again, I feel the coaches' frustration. It's real. But in the end it was the right thing to do for our student-athletes.

You talked a little bit about the expanded playoff, the feedback that you've been asking for. Dabo yesterday noted that his team had suggested they were not thrilled about additional games. Mack Brown had similar comments about North Carolina players. When you hear that feedback, how does that figure into the bigger-picture view of the expanded playoffs? Is there a way to address their concerns while still thinking about playoff expansion?

There is. I don't want anybody to foreclose either good or bad on the playoff. We're still learning about the playoff. The football coaches today are going to get to CFP presentation. They may feel the exact same way. I respect Mack and Dabo. Those are two of our tremendous coaches. They have incredible experience.

When I finished up in Dallas at the end of June on a Tuesday, we had CFP meetings Monday and Tuesday, it was brought out that the 12-team playoff was recommended by the board. I had a Wednesday like noon call with our head football coaches. I asked them to do a few things: Get together and talk about it and discuss how they feel about it, to your point about too many games, length of season, healthy and safety issues, what does it do to the regular season, all of those things. But as importantly, talk to the student-athletes, get a feel and read.

I saw Coach Swinney's press statements yesterday. I've seen Coach Brown. I've talked to both of them regularly. I'll see them here later today and tomorrow. Those are real concerns. I think we have to be open-minded to it. It doesn't mean we're going to support it.

The last piece of your question about will it influence us. It certainly will influence us. It will influence President Clements who ultimately has one of the votes. I want us to socialize this process, socialize the proposal. I want it to be transparent. I want us to be able to hear from those constituent groups, student-athletes and coaches, and then have an educated position for our conference.

There's some great things about it, too. We talked a little bit about some of the really major challenges to this thing. There's some terrific things about access and opportunity. The sport has access to 3% of the schools playing the sport of football. Most of our other sports are around 20% and above. Men's basketball is at 19%. Baseball and soccer and others are there.

So there's debate to this thing, which is great. We need that. I'll look forward by September, as we get ready to have another CFP meeting, having the ACC having a position on where we stand.

I was wondering in terms of recruiting and NIL and increasing the prominence of ACC football, does that worry you in terms of competing with other conferences like the SEC that are offering more and more potential economic upside to players?

That's back to the point about having a national standard. If we could all get on kind of the same footing for all the reasons I described.

In the end I love what we offer. I love the offer across our 14 schools in the sport of football, the academic and athletic balance, the competition, the coaches, the kinds of leaders we create in our programs, the games we play, the network we partner with. Certainly you can always look at a specific conference and compare and contrast.

But I think if we can get some national legislation, we have a tremendous complement of schools that rivals anyone in the country.

You mentioned earlier coming from a family of healthcare workers. You also come from a family of Olympic sport athletes. What have you told your two children, who are Olympic sport athletes, about NIL? Have either of them dabbled into name, image and likeness monetization?

They've taught me a lot. It's real when it's under your roof. As you mentioned, two of our five are current collegiate student-athletes, one in the ACC, one in the Ivy. They have some real ideas about it.

I think where it stands right now is a great start. It just is. They're thinking about it. They haven't quite dabbled in it, but they are considering some things. That will be fun because sometimes I wear my dad hat with them and sometimes I wear my commissioner hat with them. It's kind of a neat role to be in.

But it's good. Again, I know it was a process getting to a point relative to name, image and likeness. But it's like other iterations we've had in college sports. Most recently we had cost of attendance. I was fortunate enough to chair the NCAA council at that time. I know the consternation that took place about cost of attendance, it's going to imbalance, some schools can afford it, some schools can't, it's really going to hurt collegiate sports.

It been fantastic. The recipients have been our student-athletes.

We'll get through this, be stronger. In the end we do need to take a look at where we're at in college sports and really start to get together and do some assessing and do some long-range planning.

Tags: Football
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