During last week’s ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, new commissioner Jim Phillips expressed it is a goal of his and the conference to make football a top priority.
“As I’ve stated since my first day as ACC commissioner, football must be the number one priority for us, for all of us, our schools, the league, ACC Network, our partners, coaches,” he said “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.”
Of course, this goal is even more of a priority with the news Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the Big 12 and will apply for entry into the SEC. The addition of Texas and Oklahoma, which will happen no later than 2025, will expand the SEC to 16 member institutions, one more than the ACC, which has Notre Dame as a part-time member in all sports its sponsors with the exception of football.
The conference has not been shy about wanting the Irish as a full-time member, but the bigger question is, does Notre Dame want the ACC? Though the Irish spent last year as a member of the conference because of COVID-19, the school and the fans enjoy their independent status and at the moment that is what they want.
But what if Notre Dame is forced to join a conference. Will it join the ACC? Right now, that answer is yes, because they are contractually obligated to join the ACC.
“They know the ACC’s interest. It’s been less than bashful,” Phillips said. “It’s been less than bashful since I’ve been here. But I also respect where they’re at. I respect where we’re at. Our concentration right now is on our 14 (football) schools.
“Who knows where the future’s going to go. But I love the group of schools that we have. You always have to be ready to add. Notre Dame, contractually, if they were to join a conference, again structured by Commissioner [John] Swofford in 2013, would join the ACC. That’s where we’re at.”
If the ACC can finally get Notre Dame to join, then the conference will likely sign just one more school. Who could that be?
They could raid the Big 12 and get West Virginia to join. It is no secret the Mountaineers have always wanted to be a member of the ACC. They fit it from a geographic location, and are already natural rivals to ACC members Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.
But West Virginia brings very little to the table from a television revenue standpoint and that could be a determining factor on why the ACC will not bring them on board. Phillips said even before the Oklahoma-Texas news that the conference was going to be pushing its brand even more in football, especially from a marketing, social media and television standpoint.
“A renewed focus and commitment of ACC football will impact many aspects and partnerships for us, including our tremendous television and bowl partners. I’m incredibly pleased with the enhanced level of communication, energy and focus within our conference specific to our football programs,” he said. “There is terrific work being done by our football subcommittee. That includes six athletic directors and three head football coaches, Pat Kraft, Boston College; Clemson’s Dabo Swinney; Blake James from Miami; Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina; Heather Lyke and Pat Narduzzi from Pitt; Virginia’s Carla Williams; Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock; and Dave Clawson, chair of our football committee from Wake Forest.
“Efforts to strengthen future scheduling, further engage with our student-athletes, deepen the ACC Network’s commitment to football programming, elevating our football championship game, enhancing our officiating program and collectively discussing national issues and be a leader in that space is all underway, but there’s much more work to be done.”
With talk of expanding the College Football Playoff after the 2025-’26 season, the name, image and likeness bylaws set forth by the NCAA on July 1 and now conference realignment, being football-centric is going to be the key for the ACC going forward.