Will & Will Interview: Clemson President Jim Barker
Clemson University President James F. Barker who was also the chair of the Council of Presidents that made the decision to add Virginia Tech and Miami to the Atlantic Coast Conference was the guest of the "Opening Drive" on Thursday.
"The Opening Drive" with Will Merritt and Will Bouton is a morning sports show that airs from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM each morning on WCCP (104.9 FM) in Clemson.
Will M: Talk about your experience with ACC expansion.
Barker: It was unlike anything I have done before. Trying to make sure all the ACC presidents had a voice at the table. Trying to make sure I could facilitate the discussion and understand when it was time for us to discuss and when it was time for us to vote and when it was time for us to get more information. It was a group of people who were not used to being facilitated (laughing) but it was a challenge and one that I enjoyed. I was pretty much energized by the process actually.
Will M: You have made comments that it was sometimes a clumsy process.
Barker: It was. There was times when I thought we could have done better. I think a visit to a school like we sent those teams to Boston College and Syracuse that if we were ready to do that we should have been ready to make invitations. So there were parts of the process that were awkward. But I think we will improve any type of process we have in the conference as a result of this.
Will B: Do you regret not inviting Boston College and Syracuse?
Barker: No. I think the two schools we have – Virginia Tech and Miami – are excellent universities, and I am very, very pleased they are part of the conference. I think the ACC is much, much stronger as a result of that. The thing I regret is that we should have not been that far along or imply we were that far along if were not. That’s part I would say I regret.
Will B: Will you revisit adding those two schools?
Barker: We had decided at the close of our last call that we were moving the idea of expansion now and the idea of a 12th team in the conference to the backburner. And for us to just wait and see what kind of changes the landscape was going to generate as a result of the decisions we made and other decisions I think other conferences will make and see what kind of wise move a 12th team might be if we decide to go there. It also means though that where we position ourselves if the NCAA decides 11 teams will give us a conference championship game and we can go with the Big 10 to make that case. Then we may not look at a 12th team. I think it’s positioning for other changes that may come along. So we don’t have to rush to make a decision. We are in a position of sort of reflecting now.
Will M: How will the football schedules look with an 11 team league?
"We have never been afraid of competition here, and we have never been intimated by anybody." -- James Barker, Clemson University President on ACC expansion
Barker: Fortunately that is a job that presidents don’t do (laughing). There are some other things I need to work on now. The conference office working with the ADs and the faculty representatives will sort through that. We saw models on how we could do a 10, 11 and 12 and even one time looked at a 13 game schedule. We have some basic idea. A symmetrical conference meaning 10 and 12 works out better in many ways just because of the symmetry of it. But there are examples in the Big 10 of how teams and conferences can play in a schedule that involves 11 teams. I am confident we can make that work. I think there is some real sentiment for not going to division in basketball with 11. That was important to a lot of our schools that we continue to play as many as teams in the conference as we could in terms of the geographic spread. But in football that will probably be the case too with 11 but we will wait to see what the conference office, ADs and faculty reps present to us.
Will B: How good of a possibility will is it that the NCAA will allow the ACC to have a championship game with 11 members?
Barker: I really don’t have a good sense of that. I’m not really sure if the NCAA has really been questioned about it. I think it depends on how thoughtful we can be in making in the presentation. What are the advantages and disadvantages as far as the NCAA and college athletics are concerned. I don’t really have a good sense about that. I think we are going to test it and see what kind of results we get. As a result of that then I think it will have an effect on how we look at expansion in the future.
Will B: Do you think Notre Dame would be interested in joining?
Barker: I think they would look seriously at such an invitation. I think they would have other opportunities too. I think other conferences would love to have Notre Dame in their conference. I think they would have to weigh that against remaining an independent. My speculation is that will involve their full board of trustees as they sort through what are the advantages and disadvantages of each those conference alignments as well as remaining independent. I think though the landscape is shifting will take a good hard look at any opportunities that are presented. And I think we will look at other schools as well. We haven’t talked more specifically than that about who those schools might be.
Will M: Talk about what these two schools bring to the ACC in terms of academics.
Barker: They are excellent institutions. We looked carefully at the academics side of all the schools we were examining. You would probably be surprised about how much time we looked at that matter. I think there are some perceptions that all our looks had to do with the financial. Actual the majority of discussions had to do with the academic strength of the institution that we were looking at. That’s just how presidents think really. We looked at SAT scores. We looked at compliance issues. We looked at quality of the faculty. We looked at their research dollars and how much public service work they were doing and all of those kinds of things to decide whether the personality of the school and the character of the school fit the ACC principles if you would. One reason I think they were very interested in joining the ACC is we are very active in academic collaboration. We just put together a new program called traveling scholars where graduate students enrolled in any ACC school could take classes and work with researchers in any other ACC school for a length of time between 2 weeks and 2 semesters and the ACC will pay the travel expenses for those students to go to from one school to the other. So you sort of have a citizenship in all the ACC if you are a graduate student. That is a huge step forward for us. And I think Virginia Tech and Miami said in their final analysis we want to be a part of academic consortium as the ACC could present.
Will M: As the Clemson president what does this mean for Clemson?
Barker: I am very excited about what this means for Clemson. That certainly has been foremost in my mind throughout these deliberations is what serves Clemson best. We have a very specific set of goals for both academics and athletics. By adding these two schools I think we have done a great thing for our academic goals. But I also think the goal of winning a national championship in football and the other national championships beside the golf championship we just won, this move will help us do that. It will mean we will have to raise our level of play. We will have to raise the level of quality on the field and on the courts in competition. I see that is exactly what Clemson needs to do. We need to reenergize our athletic program and our new athletic director Terry Don Phillips completely agrees with this. We have never been afraid of competition here and we have never been intimated by anybody. I think this will bring out the competitive instinct in our fans and our campus. I think that will be a very, very positive thing for us. Can you imagine when Miami comes to play in Death Valley? Think about what that is going to be when we open our West End zone project and our athletic heritage center and Miami comes to play us. Imagine what Death Valley will be like when that happens.