ACC commissioner John Swofford said Friday that the conference likely will retain Atlantic and Coastal divisions for football while having no divisions in basketball once Pittsburgh and Syracuse become the league’s 13th and 14th members.
During a 20-minute, one-on-one interview on the eve of Saturday’s football championship game between Virginia Tech and Clemson, Swofford also said the ACC has had no substantive discussions with Notre Dame about the school forgoing football independence to join the conference for all sports.
Swofford’s football division news is welcome at Virginia Tech and Virginia, where fans, coaches and administrators feared new geographic splits that would have separated the Hokies and Cavaliers from annual games in North Carolina, a state teeming with graduates and recruiting targets of both schools.
Scrapping the current divisions after seven years for a North-South alignment would have done little except recreate a version of the old Big East that included Syracuse, Pitt, Boston College and Virginia Tech.
Here is Swofford in his own words.
On a regular season that saw ACC teams go 19-16 against non-conference, Bowl Subdivision opponents: “I think it’s been a very good, solid regular season. Took advantage of some opportunities, and we missed some opportunities. There’s some big wins in there against Ohio State (Miami) and Auburn (Clemson) and Florida (Florida State). …
“Virginia Tech’s had a terrific year and certainly at this point you like to have a team that’s fifth in the country. Clemson brought a lot of national notoriety a good part of the season. So there’s certainly highlights there for us to build on. … If Virginia Tech were to win this game, there won’t be many years when you have that kind of record (12-1) and you’re not in the national championship game or certainly in the conversation. I think we made overall progress without it being, from a national perspective, a bang-up year.”
On if he could have imagined the Hokies’ ACC dominance – four championships in seven years -- when they joined in 2004: “The consistency that that program has had under Frank Beamer, and particularly since they’ve been in our league, is extraordinary, and unmatched nationally when you look at purely wins over that period of time.
“It’s a terrific thing for Virginia Tech, and the ACC, that in Frank Beamer Virginia Tech has, and the Atlantic Coast Conference has, the winningest active coach in FBS. Just like we’ve got the winningest active basketball coach (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski).”
On whether ACC athletic directors are closer to finalizing divisions and schedules for when Syracuse and Pitt arrive: “I do feel like we’re closer. We’ve had some excellent conversations about that without bringing them to conclusion. I think we’re getting some direction there. … I would suspect -- our winter meetings are in early February -- I would think at that point we will have those decisions made.
“I think nine (conference) games are probable in football. I think it’s more likely to be maintaining the divisions and plugging Pitt and Syracuse into the existing divisions. Recognizing the equity that’s been built in the two divisions as you have them now. The competition, it’s amazing how close it is. It’s almost 50-50 (the Atlantic leads 68-64, including title games). We’re not there yet. That could change, but the tenor of the conversations has been in that direction.
“Basketball, I think 18 games are probable as opposed to 16, and I think no divisions are more likely than having divisions.”
On whether the Big East will release Pitt and Syracuse before the 27 months required by Big East bylaws: “I think we’re going to have to watch that and let it play out, in terms of whatever the Big East does with new members. You’ve got the West Virginia litigation [the Mountaineers suing the Big East so they can exit for the Big 12 next year] going on. We’ll see how that plays out.
“We continue to have ongoing discussions with Pitt and Syracuse. They’re in our meetings, they’re part of our discussions moving forward in terms of divisions and number of games and so forth. Ultimately, that’s between the two schools and the Big East Conference.”
On whether they could join next year: “I don’t think that’s likely. I think there’s some chance. It appears, from what I’ve read, that West Virginia very much intends on going to the Big 12 next year, and if that happens, how that affects Pitt and Syracuse I don’t know. We’re not there yet, but at some point you reach a point where it would be a fire drill you don’t want to undertake. …
“We’ve said all along we want to be respectful of the Big East and their bylaws, and yet on the other hand we’d love to have the two new schools sooner rather than later.”
On whether the ACC’s expansion committee is active or static, and whether Notre Dame is possible: “I’d say right now it’s pretty static. If Notre Dame were to candidly take the approach that they are willing to talk seriously about joining a conference, I think there would be conversation, but they have not done that up to this point.”
On the prospect of an Alabama-LSU national title game rematch that might feature two teams that didn’t win a conference championship: “I think we have to see that play out through the weekend. With the BCS every year you can talk about so many hypotheticals. The system is such at this point in time, a team can be in without winning its conference, and technically both teams could be in without winning their conference. … I’m not sure that would have been anticipated.”
On the possibility of the next BCS format having no automatic bids for conference champs: “I think it’s possible. I think it’s going to be one of multiple possible changes in the BCS. I think it’s gotten a lot of play here recently because it’s sort of a new idea that was thrown out on the table. I don’t necessarily think it has stronger legs than anything else at this point in time, but it is a new approach.
“Interestingly enough, I think the one thing it would do is in terms of the conferences that currently are not AQ conferences, it would probably further limit their access. If you simply have the championship game, and other than the championship game we’re back to where we were pre-BCS, pre Coalition, pre Alliance. Then it’s back to conferences tying up with bowls, which is certainly going to have a very strong marketplace component, and to some degree a geographic component as well. Over the next six-eight months, there will be a lot of conversations about what might be next.
“I’d like to see a plus-one reconsidered. I’ve been for that for several years. [SEC commissioner] Mike Slive was at one point -- I don’t know whether Mike still is or not. But the two of us supported it and tried to move it through a few years ago.”
On whether ACC presidents supported the plus-one model: “I think ultimately they need to. We haven’t formally taken a vote on that. At the time we had a discussion with our presidents, and they were comfortable with floating the idea. …
“There are several things about a plus-one I think are a positive. First of all, it gives four teams instead of two the opportunity to play for a national championship. It’s within the time-frame parameters the presidents prefer. The season wouldn’t be stretched out any longer. It’s only two teams that play an extra game. Doesn’t have to be done during exams. Would have market-place value from a financial standpoint. It wouldn’t resolve all the controversy. Whoever’s fifth would be upset, just like whoever’s third is now. …
“I think those who are opposed to it feel, in essence, that it‘s a mini-playoff, and that’s fair. It is. The fear that some people have is that it creates a slippery slope, and that any time the NCAA has any type of playoff, all you have to do is look at history to see that it grows, and to see that it grows pretty dramatically. …
“It’s a very interesting time in the upcoming months because I think people are, decision-makers are, more open to altering what’s currently in place than they have been. Doesn’t mean it will happen, but I think there’s a more open-minded approach where people are stepping back and saying, ‘OK, how can we make this better?’”
On whether he’s talked with Syracuse officials about the dismissal of associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine over sexual abuse accusations: “Both [chancellor] Nancy Cantor and [athletic director] Daryl Gross have called, just in the spirit of ‘here’s what we know.’
“I told somebody the other day, as an AD and as a commissioner you worry about a lot of things, you stay awake at night worrying about a lot of things. That kind of just totally unacceptable behavior has never been something any of us had real reason to worry about. … Sad to see, particularly for the kids that were evidently victimized. That’s where it starts. You always try to find something good in bad things that happen. I guess the only good in this is it’s brought a lot of attention to the issue and the responsibility and accountability that goes with it.”
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