Since its 1954 inception, the ACC basketball tournament has never strayed outside North Carolina in consecutive seasons. But the lure of New York could change that, Commissioner John Swofford said during a wide-ranging interview Monday.
Relaxed as we spoke in a hotel boardroom at the league’s preseason football gathering, Swofford also detailed probable changes to the ACC’s bowl revenue sharing formula and opined on the possibility of the five power conferences forming a new division within the NCAA.
I’ve long been convinced the ACC basketball tournament is New York-bound, with the only questions when and for how long. Swofford reinforced that belief Monday.
The basketball topic arose as we discussed this month’s announcement that New York’s YES Network, in concert with Fox Sports, will carry up to 10 ACC football games and 23 basketball contests this season. That continues the conference’s recent New York push, which includes a partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium and the July 1 Manhattan welcome for new members Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame.
“When you have the footprint we now have, and you have Syracuse, and then you have the relationship with the Yankees and the Pinstripe Bowl … there are natural tie-ins there,” Swofford said. “Obviously Fox wanted exposure, we wanted exposure, in the New York area. It’s worked out really well.”
Over breakfast Monday, Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage told me he expected decisions on future ACC basketball tournaments at October’s annual fall meetings or shortly thereafter. He and other U.Va. administrators have advocated a long look at New York, home to the Knicks’ Madison Square Garden Nets’ Barclays Center.
Both arenas are presently occupied for postseason, the Garden by the Big East, Barclays by the Newport News-based Atlantic 10. Terms of the Big East’s deal are uncertain, Swofford said, while the A-10 is contracted at Barclays for the next four seasons.
Both arenas figure to require a multi-year commitment from the ACC, which is set to stage its 2014 and ’15 tournaments in Greensboro. Swofford said such an agreement is possible, and while ACC coaches prefer the more hallowed Garden and nearby Times Square, he made clear Barclays in Brooklyn is very much in play.
“From everything we can gather talking to people in and around New York, Brooklyn generally speaking is very trendy, very hot and attractive right now,” Swofford said, “and only is projected to become more so, and part of that is related to Barclays Center.
“There’s a subway stop that empties right at the building itself. There are projected hotels and so forth to be built, restaurants.”
I mentioned to Swofford the positive vibe downtown venues such as Charlotte and Washington, D.C., provide, in direct contrast to Greensboro.
“That kind of situation is appealing,” he said. “You do see it in Charlotte with our football championship game or our basketball tournament. My favorite Final Four cities are the cities where you can walk. You check into the hotel and you walk to the arena, restaurants, whether it’s San Antonio, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Atlanta.”
A secondary topic with Swofford was impending changes in how the ACC distributes postseason football revenue. He outlined three courses.
First, the conference will designate more money to bowl-bound schools to cover travel expenses to the game.
Second, bowl ticket obligations will likely be centralized in the league office rather than handled by individual schools. That way, if any school(s) do not sell their allotment, the ACC will pay the remainder from the postseason pool.
Third, teams that win the ACC championship and/or qualify for the new college football playoff could receive significant bonuses from the revenue pool before the remainder is shared evenly among the membership.
Keep in mind, partial member Notre Dame will receive none of the ACC’s playoff money and only one-fifteenth of the league’s non-playoff revenue. And when the Irish qualify for any of the six playoff-level bowls, even that one-fifteenth share is void.
So the notion of Notre Dame as parasite is patently false.
As he did with reporters from USA Today and CBS Sports, Swofford mentioned to me rampant dissatisfaction with the NCAA’s governing structure – Division I is now charted by a small board of university presidents rather than by one-school-one-vote conventions – and the chance of the ACC joining with the Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12 and SEC to form a new division within the NCAA.
“I think the next six months or so are going to be important to the NCAA and how it addresses the process and governance,” Swofford said. “My view is that presidential control and oversight is entirely appropriate and necessary. But I think it needs to be at the highest level and related to the most fundamental aspects of what the enterprise is all about.
“I think what we’ve lost, in my opinion, is that the real pros and practitioners on a day-to-day basis, meaning the athletic directors, are not as involved and engaged in the decision-making and legislative process as we need them to be. And that’s not the ADs’ fault. That’s the fault of the governance structure we now have. You need people that live this day-to-day. You need people that understand the nuances. …
“We’ve had over a decade to kind of evaluate the current structure and I don’t think it’s worked as well as we’d hoped it would. Sometimes you just find that out, and when you find that out, you have to adjust it and change it. I don’t know if we go back to the future so to speak and one school, one vote. But there’s a lot to be said for some of the fundamental aspects of that because it forced people institutionally, and ADs and faculty reps, to be involved in the process. …
“Do we need another division? Is that wise or not? I think it’s something that should be considered and I think it will be. I think there’s a feeling right now among those of us in the five power conferences, let’s try to bring change in a positive way under the NCAA umbrella. You still get people, and it’s usually people on the outside, saying why don’t you go off and break away and do your own thing and form your own organization. But I don’t think we’re at that point.
“And that would be complicated. You’d have to duplicate a lot of what the NCAA has (in place). Then you run into all kinds of complications about what you do with the basketball tournament. There are schools that don’t play football at this level that are prominent in terms of the basketball tournament. … (Breaking away) would be a pretty selfish thing to do, and I don’t think the frustration level has reached that point.”
A five-paragraph quote is a lot to digest, but I included it because it shows how serious the ACC and others are about effecting radical change, change that could include the ouster of NCAA president Mark Emmert, who often oversteps his bounds.
Swofford said the NCAA also needs to become far more efficient financially.
“Are there aspects of the NCAA that are unnecessary?” he said. “There are all kinds of different programs that require personnel and financial investment and have grown. I don’t want to pick on any.
“The (NCAA) basketball tournament, as healthy as it has been and is, now you’re looking at 2-3 percent growth in revenue over the years. That’s not a lot, and that’s where all the money comes from. (But) the future growth is not going to match the past growth. It’s still a lot of money, but the organization can’t grow in the future at the same rate that it’s grown over the last decade or two.”
Swofford’s last broadside at the NCAA was over the interminable investigation into Miami’s Nevin Shapiro scandal.
“One thing I’ve tried to impress on the NCAA leadership: When you’ve got a school under investigation for a two-to-three year period of time, in a public way, it’s just damaging in so many different ways,” Swofford said. “It’s as if the longevity of it becomes a penalty itself. I’m all for tough sanctions when things are proven. I have no problem with that. But we’ve got to be better than having two- or three-year investigations that could have been addressed in a much shorter period of time.
“If you look at what Miami has self-imposed, I can’t remember an institution taking themselves out of two straight bowl games, one of which included an ACC championship game that could have (resulted in) a BCS game. I think they’ve dealt with it strongly. … Institutionally they had to put up with this investigation that’s been flawed and has taken way too long. … However it’s resolved, it needs closure.”
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