Dabo Swinney doubled as football coach and journalism professor Tuesday, striking perfect tones as each. He shredded speculation of Clemson bolting the ACC for the Big 12 and lamented the reporting that perpetuates the chatter.
Swinney is preparing for his fourth year leading the Tigers. He just agreed to a contract extension through 2017 and last season guided Clemson to its first conference championship in 20 years and first Orange Bowl appearance in 30.
So while Swinney isn’t omnipotent, he does wield some clout, and when it comes to league affiliation, there’s no questioning his preference.
“In my opinion, going to the Big 12 would be the worst thing you could do as a program,” Swinney told media at Clemson prior to his annual youth camp. “It makes zero sense. We are the ACC. This is a program, we just won the championship, won it more times than anyone in this conference. We can fulfill every goal and dream as a program right here in his conference.”
Clamor to the contrary has affected the Tigers’ recruiting, according to Swinney. Prospects in Clemson’s wheelhouse of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, it seems, are not interested in playing in a midwestern conference.
“I’ve had to live it for about the last month,” Swinney said in a video posted on YouTube, “and it’s been very negative. … I’ve had to spend a lot of time re-recruiting guys and assuring them we’re not going to the Big 12.
“We have a footprint at Clemson that’s been established for a long, long time. The southeastern footprint has been our bread and butter. That’s what’s made Clemson. People don’t want to leave here. They want to play here. That’s a fact.”
In separate remarks quoted by the Anderson Independent-Mail’s Greg Wallace, Swinney said: “It’s been a real distraction. We’re 1,000 percent committed to the ACC. …
“Quite frankly, there’s been a lot of irresponsible blogging, reporting, whatever you want to call it. We live in this world nowadays where some guy hears something from a guy the third stall down in the bathroom and it’s like, ‘OK, that’s fact. That’s the way it is.’ It’s so far from reality it’s not even funny, but it just takes on a life of its own.”
Indeed it does. And while experience teaches to never say never in realignment, the certainty with which some claim to know that not only Clemson but also Florida State is exiting the ACC for the Big 12 is astonishing.
Let’s put it this way: I believe Dabo Swinney has better “sources” than reporters, bloggers and message board mavens who might still insist that Clemson’s departure is “a done deal.”
Moreover, I believe Tuesday's remarks were calculated, cleared with athletic director Terry Don Phillips and shared by basketball coach Brad Brownell.
Swinney also dismissed as "baloney" the notion that college football’s new postseason structure, which most expect to be a four-team playoff, could deny the ACC access. And he's right.
Now if the ACC continues to produce champions with multiple defeats – the last ACC winner with one or none entering the bowl season was 10-1 Maryland in 2001 – cracking a four-team playoff will prove very difficult. But an undefeated or once-beaten ACC champ would have every chance to qualify for a playoff -- in fact, 11-2 Virginia Tech was third in the Bowl Championship Series standings entering 2007’s postseason.
“We were not even ranked (to start 2011),” Swinney said. “We were not even on the radar and we went to fifth in the country (after an 8-0 start). That just goes to show you what we can do in this conference.”
Clemson was not alone. ACC rivals Florida State and Virginia Tech also were ranked among the top six nationally during 2011. But all three lost at least three times, saddling the ACC with its first season since 1971 without a team among the Associated Press’ final top 20.
“Everybody has beaten each other up,” Swinney said. “We haven’t had a dominant 13-0 or 12-1 team like the SEC has. We are trying to be that type of team in the ACC. If we take care of our business at Clemson, we will have a seat at that table.”
By month’s end, we may have details on how playoff teams will be selected in 2014 and beyond. But no matter the format – top four teams, top four conference champions – Swinney has the ACC’s challenge pegged.
Play better. Then, and only then, will rewards follow.
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