AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Jim Phillips publicly bowed to his first spring meetings as ACC commissioner on Wednesday and met with reporters at the Ritz-Carlton a day early before heading to the Chicago area for his son’s graduation from Notre Dame on Thursday .
No, Phillips hasn’t given Luke – a sprinter on the Ireland track and field team – any news that his school is attending his father’s conference in football full-time. This conversation is hardly a conversation anymore as both sides have long since made their stances clear and so many other pressing issues for the league are being addressed in a climate of change in college sports.
Here are the four biggest direct issues Phillips raised during his nearly 40-minute session with the media.
1. Does college football need the NCAA?
Phillips, who sits on the NCAA’s Transformation Committee, was asked if he envisioned the Power 5 conferences breaking away from the NCAA. The short answer was no. The longer answer left open the possibility of FBS football doing its own thing, given the size and scope of the sport relative to the NCAA’s limited reach.
Phillip’s comments weren’t too different from those of Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who suggested to ESPN last week that the FBS should operate under the umbrella of the college football playoffs. Phillips was specifically asked if he agreed with Smith.
“I would just say that we’ve had a lot of conversations, I think within the ACC and outside of the ACC, about what you just described,” Phillips said.
When asked what these alternative models are, Phillips said: “Well, I think you’re either continuing down the path you’ve taken, or you’re trying to do something different. And what is the most sustainable? What has the opportunity to advance the sport of football? There is already a slow creep in soccer. It has its own championship. It has everything it takes to host the second most watched sporting event in the United States. So is there any way to take a look at what this could be? If you’re remaking the NCAA and everything the NCAA cares about, maybe there’s something parallel that can have some interaction but has a distinct ability to do so.
One can only wait for the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. later this month to hear Commissioner Greg Sankey’s thoughts on the matter, as Sankey is also on the Transformation Committee and has his thoughts on the current state of the NCAA.
2. The 3-5-5 planning model sure sounds like it’s coming
All who have spoken both publicly and privately this week have spoken out in favor of the ACC changing the scheduling model to ensure every four-year-old player can play any conference school during their time on campus. Phillips confirmed that the 3-5-5 model – in which schools have three permanent opponents and a rotating cast of five each year – will be the model the league will eventually vote on.
“That would be 2023 and beyond,” Phillips said. “So we want to go back to being really thoughtful and strategic, listening to the coaches and getting their feedback. Let the ADs address it. But in the end we also want to talk to our partner, and that’s the final step, so to speak. What does that mean from a TV point of view? Is that something that’s appealing to ESPN? And we’ll decide whether we want to do it or not, but we’d also like to get their input.”
Phillips pointed to two main reasons for the potential switch: the familiarity aspect mentioned above, and the recommendation of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee, which would essentially allow conferences to host their championship games as they see fit.
“I think you’re seeing that at several conferences that they’d like to dictate what their championship structure is and what will eventually lead to expanded football playoffs,” Phillips said. “You want your top two teams at the end of the year to have a chance to play for many reasons. So that’s why it took us – you might think it’s a little bit longer, but it really isn’t. It just isn’t. And it’s not like, ‘Oh, well, we couldn’t make a decision.’ We’re really very much on the right track, but we want to make sure again that we’ve spoken to everyone to see: are we missing something here?”
3. A decision on headquarters is imminent
We’ve all heard this before, but this time the ACC sounds like it means business. The league had better mean it, for the sake of all of its office workers who need to know if and where they might be moving in the next few months.
Phillips said he wanted the ACC’s relocation decision to be made by the end of this spring, which would be within the next few weeks. He confirmed three locations are finalists but declined to go into details after being asked about the potential political implications of moving to Orlando given the ACC removed its 2016 football title game from Charlotte over House Bill 2 known as the “bathroom bill.” . (Florida recently passed HB 1557, which has become known as the Don’t Say Gay Act.)
Charlotte, Greensboro and Orlando were widely reported as finalists for ACC HQ.
“There’s no position for me to answer, we haven’t made a decision yet,” said Phillips. “But we look at everything with each of the three cities. Anything to do with a specific city, place, dynamics of that city, legislation. So we are not ignoring any of the potential venues that could host and house the ACC.”
The ACC announced in October that it was considering relocation. The conference has been based in Greensboro since its inception in 1953.
One option that has been discussed and is on the table is a move within Greensboro to a more modern facility downtown.
4. How does the ACC close the revenue gap?
The Big Ten strike a massive deal with their next media rights deal. The SEC has its own mega deal with ESPN that starts in 2024-25 and pays this conference $3 billion over 10 years.
The ACC, meanwhile, has signed a deal with ESPN through 2034-35, which earned him $332.8 million in its first year.
The gap is only widening. What can the new commissioner do to catch up?
“It’s paramount,” Phillips said. “I think we need to improve revenue within the conference office, and I think you’re going to eventually see a chief revenue officer that will be part of our new structure after we find our new location, regardless of whether we stay in Greensboro and another facility in Greensboro or we go to two of the other finalists. So the whole organization needs to have someone thinking about sales every day. We spoke at length with ESPN today about some really high profile opportunities from a sponsorship perspective to help generate them and they are just as motivated as we are because we are 50-50 partners. So we must continue to find every way we can resource the conference, the championships, and the championship venues and the rest of it.
“We’re also a conference that’s going to sponsor so many (sports) at all the big conferences next year and next to the Ivys I think we’re going to be up there at 28. Women’s gymnastics will be added at Clemson will be the 28th we have sponsored. It’s been in the bloodlines and DNA of the ACC for as long as the ACC has existed.
“And like moments like (when a reporter) asked with Title IX what’s important in the ACC and these student athletes. That’s why we believe in broad-based programming, and that comes at a cost. And we want to address that and close as often and as quickly as possible. But I would also say at the same time, just because you have the most money doesn’t mean you always win, depending on what sport you’re looking at. And that’s no excuse for not trying to bridge the revenue gap, but I also know that we’ve done a really good job in our schools, taking the resources they had and making good use of them.”
(Photo above: Jim Dedmon / USA Today)