ACC Commissioner addresses vaccines, NIL, and transfer portal in Kickoff remarks

by - Senior Writer -
Phillips speaks at the ACC Football Kickoff Wednesday. (Photo courtesy ACC)
Phillips speaks at the ACC Football Kickoff Wednesday. (Photo courtesy ACC)

CHARLOTTE, NC – New ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips took to the podium at an ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte's Westin hotel for the first time in his new role Wednesday morning, and he took a few moments to preview the 2021 season.

“For now football, why we all gathered here this week, what we're all excited about,” Phillips said. “Just over six weeks from now, our football teams will be kicking off week 1 of the 2021 season. When you look at the non-conference and conference match-ups, there's no shortage of exciting this fall.

"Our teams arguably play the toughest non-conference schedule in the country. In addition to 23 games against Power Five opponents, the ACC will play 13 non-conference games against teams ranked in the final 2020 Associated Press top 25. All 14 teams play at least one Power Five non-conference opponent, while nine teams play two.

"The quality of competition will immediately be evident as ACC teams kick off Labor Day Weekend with games over five consecutive days, and we're grateful that our fantastic television partners will provide national platforms to showcase our student-athletes and provide fans with access to their favorite ACC teams throughout the season. We have a strong and important relationship with ESPN, and I appreciate the ongoing conversations as we look ahead to the future and maximizing our collective successes."

He then spent a few moments talking about the ACC Network.

“ACCN is currently available in nearly 70 million households, and our partnerships have exceeded initial expectations over the first two years, including in distribution and in revenue. In addition to the football games that have already been released by ACCN, I'm excited to announce two additional games that will be featured exclusively on ACCN this season: Boston College at Clemson on Saturday, October 2, and Notre Dame at Virginia Tech on Saturday, October 9,” Phillips said.

“The addition of these games reinforces ACC Network's ongoing commitment to scheduling high-profile ACC events and surrounding them with comprehensive studio and on-campus programming as well as in-depth storytelling.”

Phillips detailed the accomplishments of the conference’s football teams over the past several seasons.

“ACC football has a lot to be proud of. We've had a team in either the college football playoff or the BCS National Championship game in each of the past eight years. Six different teams have played in the historic Capital One Orange Bowl since 2013, and we've won three of the last eight football national titles,” he said. “As I've stated since my first day as ACC commissioner, football must be number one priority for us, for all of us, our schools, the league, ACC Network, our partners, coaches. We've been collaborating for months to ensure that ACC football has the mindset of 24/7, 365, and we're working together to further elevate football in the ACC. We're just getting started.

“That commitment to football will not be at the expense of our other 26 sponsored sports. You don't have to deemphasize any sport simply to provide additional resources to others or concentrate on football.”

He closed his opening remarks by speaking on the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff.

“Finally, let me address the proposed changes to the College Football Playoff. As a league, we're using the summer to engage in conversations on what is best for college football post-season. Most importantly the student-athletes who participate,” Phillips said. “Our ADs received the presentation that was given to the full CFP board of managers yesterday afternoon. Later today it will be shared with our 14 head football coaches. We appreciate the work by the subgroup of the CFP management committee as we continue to evaluate proposed options.

"As was announced earlier this spring, the league will be represented on the CFP board of managers from Clemson University president Jim Clements, who begins his tenure after the incredible job Florida State president John Thrasher did prior to his retirement. It was our charge to find another outstanding representative to serve in this prestigious role, and as a conference we are extremely pleased that President Clements humbly agreed to take the mantle. The success of the CFP is undeniable. It's important we ensure any future evolutions will only enhance the regular college football season and post-season.”


Q. 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.

JIM PHILLIPS: 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.

Q. 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?

JIM PHILLIPS: 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.

Q. 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?

JIM PHILLIPS: 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.

Q. 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?

JIM PHILLIPS: 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.

Q. 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?

JIM PHILLIPS: 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.

Q. 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?

JIM PHILLIPS: Appreciate the question.

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.

Q. 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?

JIM PHILLIPS: 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.

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