No longer on the defensive, Swofford revels in ACC success

Coming off a year in which the ACC took home both the top team and individual honors in college football -- along with the national title in mens basketball -- commissioner John Swofford has plenty to crow about these days. And he did so Thursday, with g

The ACC had the spoils of its victories on display at its Football Kickoff media event in Charlotte on Thursday. From left: the Heisman Trophy

CHARLOTTE — The Heisman Trophy, the national championship trophy and several other pieces of college football hardware are prominently displayed in the lobby of the Westin Hotel for the ACC’s Football Kickoff media event this week.But all the major awards won by conference players and teams last season aren’t the most outward sign of how things have changed for the league over the past few years.Rather, it was delivered by John Swofford in his annual Commissioner’s Forum address.There was once a time in which the majority of his remarks were spent defending a conference many considered to be the redheaded stepchild of the Power Five.That’s no longer necessary.Coming off a year in which the ACC took home both the top team and individual honors in college football — along with the national title in men’s basketball — Swofford has plenty to crow about these days.And he did so Thursday, with gusto.”Specifically related to football, this event provides the opportunity to celebrate the collective efforts of our teams and one thing I’ve learned in college athletics over the years is that when you have the opportunity to celebrate those kinds of successes, you should do it,” Swofford said.”But it’s really not about one year. It’s not just about last year or even the last couple of years. Our conference schools, programs, coaches, and players have built a strong foundation for the future.”It’s a process that began nearly a decade ago when Swofford and his league presidents had the foresight to stay ahead of the curve on conference expansion, then guaranteed the stability of the league amid further realignment with a grant of rights that locked current members into their affiliation through 2036.But for all that success, the ACC always seemed to lag behind on the football field, especially in comparison to the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12.”I know that in some years of the BCS we didn’t perform very well in those BCS games,” Swofford said. “And it was there for the world to see.”It’s a reality Swofford was anxious to change. So he issued a challenge his coaches when he met with them at the ACC’s annual spring meetings at Amelia Island, Fla., a few years ago, starting with an upgrade to their nonconference schedules.”(We talked) to our coaches at Amelia Island about the importance of us stepping up program-wise and talking with our athletic directors about the importance of that, that we had to make a better showing going forward,” Swofford recalled. “They stepped up and by they, I’m talking about everybody in our league.”Swofford related an anecdote from that meeting in which Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stood up and told his colleagues that they needed to “take a look in the mirror, because if you play the right people and you develop your program enough to win enough of the right games, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be in the playoff every year.”The ACC has had a team in each of the first two years of the current playoff system.Although extending that streak this season might be difficult given the number of key offensive players conference teams lost to graduation and the NFL, Swofford is confident that the depth and coaching talent throughout the league will help the ACC continue its recent momentum.Among the other subjects the commissioner addressed during his hour-long media session were:• ACC Network: Despite the recent trend of cord cutting, declining ratings and sweeping layoffs at ESPN over the past few months, Swofford remains confident that the conference’s upcoming linear television network will be ready to launch as scheduled in 2019.”There’s a lot of activity currently underway and that activity is on our 15 campuses,” Swofford said. “It’s at our offices in Greensboro. It’s at ESPN campuses in Bristol (Conn.), as well as here in Charlotte as we prepare for the launch in just 24 months.”Preparing to produce and distribute over 1,500 events between the linear and digital networks requires a lot of planning and preparation and obviously some lead time to do it right and launch it in the way we want to launch it. ACC and ESPN teams are diligently working to complete the multiple tasks that are required for the launch and we’re extremely pleased with the progress.”• Notre Dame’s ACC football future: Part of the agreement that allowed the Irish to become a full league member in all sports but football is that if they ever decide to join a conference, it will be the ACC. But despite rumblings earlier this year to the contrary, Swofford said he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.”When Notre Dame came into the ACC, it was fully understood that they were coming on the agreement that we came to — five games on average against ACC schools each year in football in full membership and all the other sports,” he said. “From a conference perspective, and I think Notre Dame would say the same thing, this has met every expectation that we had. I think it’s been positive for Notre Dame. I think it’s been positive for the ACC. That’s what we thought it would be. That’s what it is.”• Divisional disparity: Swofford said there are no current plans to reshuffle a lineup that has the ACC’s top two programs, Clemson and Florida State, both playing in the same division.”We haven’t really talked about divisions in several years now,” he said. “So I think right now where we are, things have settled in both in terms of how we schedule and in terms of the divisions.”Surprisingly to some, if you look at over the years the head-to-head competition with the Atlantic and Coastal, it’s very close to .500. It’s not imbalanced.”