ACC commissioner John Swofford believes the NCAA will reform without splintering, “absolutely” thinks the league is financially sound, did not take a stance during recent football-scheduling deliberations and preaches patience on a potential channel dedicated to the conference.
Those were among the takeaways Thursday from a 45-minute interview with Swofford. Louisville’s July 1 entrance into the ACC, the subject of Sunday’s print column, served as our launch point, but the conversation naturally turned to other matters.
Since readers often ask me, I asked Swofford for an update on discussions with ESPN on the feasibility of an ACC cable channel.
“They continue,” he said, “and that’s not something that we’ll necessarily give public updates on along the way. It’s something that’s going to take a while to develop and evolve in a solid manner with the right kind of foundation for the long term.”
As he often does, Swofford cited the Southeastern Conference Network, a partnership with ESPN that launches in August but was three-plus years in development. And since Swofford mentioned the SEC, I asked him if the SEC Network’s strained, 11th-hour negotiations with cable providers were a cautionary tale.
“There are challenges,” he said. “It’s not something you just decide to do, and you snap your finger, and it’s done and it’s successful. You generally have to be willing, if you go that route, to have some tough negotiations from a distribution standpoint. You may even have to be willing to back up a little financially to do what you think is the right thing long-term.
“While a channel provides 24/7 conference programming, a channel sometimes doesn’t have as great a distribution potentially as a syndicated package, if you really look at the numbers. And our syndicated package with the ACC Network is now national. It used to be regional.
“Look at the Pac-12 Network. It’s had some real challenges coming out of the chute. Again, that’s not a surprise to anybody. But the idea that a channel is an immediate end-all, be-all in every respect. It usually doesn’t work quite that way.”
Indeed, while the Pac-12 reported unmatched revenue of $334 million in fiscal 2012-13, it distributed only 68 percent of that money to member schools. The ACC and other power conferences distribute 90 percent or more.
“The Pac-12 doesn’t have a partner,” Swofford said, “so they‘ve got large expenses. They have a large gross, but they also have very large expenses. The distribution is about the net.”
Some other excerpts from Swofford are below. And look for much more from him and Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich in Sunday’s column, which should be online Saturday afternoon.
QUESTION: The ACC told some media outlets recently that 2013-14 revenue was $291.7 million, a 24-percent bump from a year ago. I’m guessing (laughter) you can’t guarantee that type of annual growth.
ANSWER: I wish.
Q: Seriously, are you confident that ACC revenue can keep member schools whole when competing nationally?
A: Absolutely. As part of the potential that’s there with this 15-member league and our footprint as we go forward. … I think this league, because of the quality of the membership, and the geographic footprint, will be set for the long-term (with) its ability to generate appropriate revenues.
Q: Some of your commissioner colleagues have engaged in some saber-rattling of late on NCAA reform. Are you encouraged that the five power conferences can gain the autonomy you want without separating from the NCAA?
A: I’ve got a certain level of confidence that will get done in a way that will give our five major conferences the autonomy we need to make some decisions related to our athletes and the world we live in. …
I think that will happen. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t. Then, if it doesn’t, we’ll need to step back and take a fresh look at it and see if what needs to be accomplished can be accomplished under the big tent of the NCAA as an organization. I think that’s where it should be addressed. I think that’s where it will be addressed. But time will tell.
(Wake Forest president) Nathan Hatch chairs the steering committee on the potential new structure, as well as the Division I board, and I’m a big fan of his, and I think he’s doing an excellent job leading that process, and it’s a difficult one because of the very size of the organization and the diversity of programs and institutions in the organization. It’s not without its pain, but I think it’s moving along well.
Q: The Division I board has floated the idea of requiring a two-thirds super-majority among power five conference members to pass legislation. Is that, as some have suggested, too high a bar?