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October 8, 2019

John Swofford

Greensboro, North Carolina

Q. Your 23rd year as the commissioner showing up to media days like this, and obviously several more as an athletic director, acting athletic director. Does this ever get old for you?
JOHN SWOFFORD: No, no it doesn't. I think as long as you have the passion and the energy and you're a part of a great league, as I'm fortunate enough to be, you've got great schools and a lot of fan interest, and there's always something else to do, there's always a what's next. And so, no, this doesn't get old. Privileged to be here.

Q. Let's talk about what's next. It's arrived already here. Couple months ago we launched the ACCN, and it's been so far a very fun experience, and I think -- I hope we've delivered a worthwhile product. For somebody like you, this has been 20 years in the making. This has been a vision of yours and to see it come to fruition. And the first few months in, how do you feel about the product and what we've been able to do?
JOHN SWOFFORD: I feel great about it. It's nice to be in front of this group, and there's some people out there that have heard me talk about this subject and say nothing, numerous years when we were leading in and the questions were: Are you going to get there; are you going to have a network; et cetera?

So it's good to be able to have it as a reality, and I couldn't be more pleased, our league couldn't be more pleased with where we are. Tremendous startup in every respect, whether it's the talent, whether it's the production, the storytelling. The distribution is beyond expectations at the beginning. So in terms of startups, it's been an extraordinarily successful one.

Q. As we talk about extraordinary, how about the product on the playing field, with these teams within the conference? The overall state of the conference, let's talk about that. You've got Clemson, who won a national championship. Virginia men's basketball won a national championship. Men and women's soccer at, Virginia currently stand at number one. How pleased are you with the performance of the student-athletes and just where we are as a conference?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Extremely. We're on a run as a league that our league has seldom seen when you look at the entire picture and the competitiveness of the league. And obviously that's an important aspect of it. And I'm going to pull out some notes here because --

Q. A lot of numbers?
JOHN SWOFFORD: I don't want to get these wrong. Since 2015, seven national championships in football, men's basketball, women's basketball and baseball -- by six different institutions.

And I think that says an awful lot about the Atlantic Coast Conference and what our schools, our programs are able to do competitively in recent years.

And obviously that's been tremendously helpful leading into the network and its launch. That's the most of any conference in those four sports.

Two of the last three years our teams have been able to win both the football and men's basketball national championships in the same year. That doesn't happen very often in our league, nor does it happen very often in anybody's league.

So tremendous from that standpoint. Our teams have won three of the last five men's basketball national championships, three of the last six football national championships.

In the last 43 years, Jordan, our teams have been to 31 -- we've had at least one team in 31 of the last 43 Final Fours. From the basketball standpoint, you talk about success and consistency, that's hard to top.

So we're spoiled from that standpoint, from a basketball standpoint. But that's okay. It's nice to have those expectations.

Currently -- and you go back in Olympic sports and considering them combined with the two revenue sports I was talking about, 24 national titles in the last five years, six national championships last year.

And currently, bringing us up to date, this fall we've had 10 of our teams ranked No. 1 in the nation in their respective sports. Currently there are five because eventually we start playing each other. So they don't all stay there.

So it's been just a tremendous run, competitively that I think has us in a great place.

You mentioned the lead-up to being in a position to do the network. And that did start a long time ago. It really goes back to the initial efforts and decisions within our league to expand and to bring in the schools that we've brought in, going from nine to 12 then to 14 and then to 15.

And all of that was with a purpose in mind. That was to put us in the best position that we could possibly be in to have the opportunities that we felt like our league needed to have and must have to competitively continue to be one of the premier conferences in the country.

And fortunately that put us in a position of maximizing media opportunities and other opportunities. We're now a league that is the largest in the country in terms of the geographic footprint of our peer conferences, with the most television sets of our peer conferences, and with the greatest population of our peer conferences. And the population base is growing.

So when you combine the competitiveness with those decisions that have put us in a really good marketplace with the quality of our schools, academically -- because if you look at the academic performance of our athletes, we lead our peer conferences every year on just about any analysis that you could put together -- and the quality collectively of the 15 institutions is the highest rated of any of our peer conferences, too.

So, when you put those three things together, I think the league is just in a tremendous place for the long term, long-term future. The grant of rights is there. The 15 schools are committed to each other through 2036 at least.

And so we know who we are now. We know who we will be for the longer term future. So I think we're in a great place.

Q. Great place, indeed. Commissioner, talk about the future. I think it's a perfect segue. And before this last question I ask, I'll open up the floor to anybody who has questions. So you have a few moments to think about it as I ask what may open the floodgates here this question -- and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask -- it's NIL. Everybody is talking about the Fair Pay to Play Act, a bill that's been signed in California. And we hear states within the ACC blueprint discussing their plans to get involved in how they want to help enhance the athlete and fairly compensate the athlete. In front of everybody here, what is your initial take on what you're seeing as it evolves now? And being the progressive conference the ACC is, how do you envision getting involved in this movement?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Well, it's a tough issue. I think the California law, in and of itself, is extreme, personally. But I'm not a doomsday guy in terms of college athletics. I think the intercollegiate athletics has been tremendously resilient over the years and will be going forward.

I don't think the way to address and solve this is by individual state laws. I don't think that really gets us to a good place ultimately. It probably pushes the envelope in terms of stressing the system to really focus on this and see if there's an answer that can work in a way that maintains -- doesn't go down what I think is a slippery slope of professionalism, but can modernize who we are and what the collegiate model is.

So I'm hopeful that as the NCAA working group comes together, there can be more focus on specific concepts and how this might work in a collegiate and educational environment to the benefit of our athletes.

I think we have to be really careful about unintended consequences that can come with it. I don't think we can look at it in a pure silo of a couple of sports. I think we have to look at the whole picture and the impact on Olympic sports, women sports.

What would some adjustment in that area mean? Are there adjustments that can be timed to higher education, which is in my opinion very, very preferable? But I don't think we should have our heads in the sand and not give it a chance to find something that fits into that modernization of the collegiate model. And I'm not smart enough to know the answer. We've got a lot of work to do on that.

We've got some really good people working on it. And hopefully, as spring approaches -- well, through the winter and into spring, when the committee intends to send something forward in a more focused way to the NCAA board, that within our collegiate athletic processes we can find something works. Or we may find that nothing that truly works in an amateur collegiate model.

I don't know yet. But I think we need to be open minded. I don't think this is going to be the end of college athletics by any means. I think we've been resilient, as I said, in the past, and we will be now and we will be in the future.


Q. Regarding NIL, if I have my timing right, you guys were in your fall meetings when Governor Newsom actually signed the bill. How active was that discussion in your fall meetings? Carla Williams is on the NCAA working group. I'm just curious how that interaction was among you and the ADs when that bill was signed.
JOHN SWOFFORD: Well, we were at Virginia Tech in our fall meetings when the bill was signed. We anticipated that it would be signed at some point. So I'm not sure if that necessarily changed the discussion, because the discussion would have taken place regardless of the signing of the bill at that particular time.

And, David, as you mentioned, Carla Williams is the ACC representative on the working group. And Val Ackerman and Gene Smith co-chair that.

So, it was an opportunity for Carla to bring her colleagues and our faculty representatives and SWAs up to date on their work and particularly in terms of the timeline going forward, and to have some discussion about pretty specific aspects of this that might or might not be a part of something going forward.

But right now, I mean, quite frankly, I think there are a whole lot more questions than there are answers. And hopefully there will be some answers as this progresses. And obviously there are other states that are now coming forward with potentially putting forward similar kinds of state laws.

And, again, I think that what we need is something national that is workable and manageable, particularly in the recruiting process.

Q. NIL is something that's been discussed for several years and the NCAA never really got any traction on getting anywhere with that. It's been kind of forced into acting more quickly now by the legislation and the O'Bannon lawsuit and sort of external factors. Are there areas, as you said, to modernize the collegiate model that now that it seems like we're going to see more lawsuits, antitrust lawsuits? We're going to see legislation where these states feel like they can have an impact. What areas would you like to see the NCAA now go forward and actually act on and move ahead of that could have to, as you said, modernize the collegiate model?
JOHN SWOFFORD: In terms of this particular --

Q. Beyond NIL.
JOHN SWOFFORD: I think that's the issue at hand. And I'm going to -- I don't want to get into a lot of particulars at this point in terms of that issue because there's so many of a specific nature, and I don't really think it's particularly helpful for any of us to publicly get out there with the specifics of it until the committee does its work. I think they deserve and need the opportunity to do so and they put a lot of time into it.

But in a general sense -- times change. And full cost of attendance, as an example, that took a long time to come into effect. I went to college and played football, signed a football grant and later received an academic scholarship. So I went on a scholarship program that was basically a full cost of attendance. It was a better scholarship than the football grant in aid of my teammates. And ever since then, personally, I've been a proponent of elevating the scholarship because of that personal experience.

That took a long, a long time to get there. And if you recall, an awfully lot of people felt that that was going to be a problem to do that, that it would negatively impact Olympic sports, et cetera, from a financial standpoint, because it was going to cost more money. And maybe you're hurt more from a recruiting standpoint -- because it's not equal, the dollars aren't equal in every institution and you get more if you're coming from California to the East Coast, for instance, or vice versa because of travel -- that that would have a huge impact on recruiting.

Neither of those scenarios happened, neither one of them. You don't hear a word about either one of those at this point in time. So that's what I mean by sometimes I think we have a tendency to stake a position and not be open minded about what the possibilities are to provide it even, and I think our athletes have a tremendous experience and opportunity in today's world, and it's been improved in recent years.

But our world keeps changing technologically and so forth. And if we're not willing to step back and be open minded about, are there more adjustments that can be made without really getting to pay for play, because I think that -- I don't believe in that for intercollegiate athletics. But I do believe in maximizing and modernizing the athlete experience for the students that come in and play in our programs.

I just can't define exactly what I think that means right now. But I think we need to find out. We may find out there's nothing in this that truly works for an amateur collegiate model. I don't know. But I think we really do need to take a look at it.

Q. With Georgia Tech being handed down the sanctions, this is now three schools in the last six years that have had a one-year postseason ban at least. NC State has got a notice of allegations on the table as well. How concerned are you about this trend? And are steps being taken to correct the problem?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Well, it's an institutional issue in each instance, obviously, first and foremost. But, yes, I'm concerned about it, always have been concerned about it anytime we have one of those situations within our league.

Our history in the ACC has been one that I and many others have been very proud of. And the fact that we've really been on the low end of that; we've had it. We've had them. But we've been on the low end of it. And we're not at the top end of it now but we're not at the lowest.

And we talked about this last week, collectively in our meetings in Blacksburg, and it's not unusual for us to talk about that.

But I think you want to eliminate those. Zero is the right number of those. We're a larger league now and the larger you are, the more of everything that happens. But it's something that I think you have to keep at the forefront of the discussion collectively and be in a position that if our institutions have something that they feel collectively we can do as a league that minimizes the potential for NCAA violations at any of our schools, we need to do it.

But the first thing is awareness and keeping it constantly in front of the entire conference membership, because it's a part of our culture.

Q. You said for years you'd like to see a splashy open to the basketball season. This year it begins early, November 5th and 6th, with a full round of conference games. Is this a one-time thing coinciding with the launch of the ACC Network, or do you see it as a template for the future in basketball?
JOHN SWOFFORD: We don't know yet. We're going to go through it this year and talk about it and then make some decisions going forward. But I'm excited about it. I think that it will grab basketball fans of the ACC and of the nation right out of the chute so to speak.

I've said that I think that basketball needed some kind of -- something nationally to tip off the year. Football pretty much has that. I think with the huge success of the College Football Playoff, I think that's had an impact on the basketball regular season. So I think it's more and more important to start the basketball season in a way that it deserves and that really grabs fans' attention.

So we're really excited about tipping off the year in that way with conference games. And obviously it's outstanding in terms of the ACC Network. And that was the stimulant but that may also become the norm. We just don't know.

Paul Brasso is sitting down here and works diligently with our schedule each and every year with our schools. And so we'll experience it and then talk about it and then move forward from there.

But I think it's terrific, particularly in the first year of the network. And it was something we could do as a conference that where we didn't have to have national buy-in on anything. So it was much easier to address it as a conference.

Q. The tournament's returning back to Greensboro this year. With the way the tournament has expanded its footprint into D.C. and Brooklyn, how important is it to you to include Greensboro in part of a regular rotation?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Well, I'm glad it is there this year because we've had so much history in Greensboro. It's been in Greensboro more than any other venue. We were here in Charlotte last year and had just a fabulous experience in every respect.

We've been in a rotation. We went to Brooklyn for two years. Felt like we really needed to do that and the experience there was outstanding. And that was coming off going to Washington.

We're fortunate because of what this league has been over the years and its tradition and history and the great coaches and great players that our tournament is successful wherever it goes. It's just a question of how successful. Is it different in one location than another? Yes. But I think that's probably good. But it is good to be coming back to Greensboro. And that's a different experience in Greensboro, obviously, than Brooklyn or DC or even Charlotte. But it's a very good experience.

The interesting thing -- and Jordan, you mentioned 23 years -- we were looking at changeover and turnover in the league over that period of time and there have been -- I think it's 53 presidents and 51 athletic directors during that point in time.

The reason I bring that up relates to the tournament. I can't give you the exact number right offhand, but there are a number of athletic directors sitting around that table and the ADs generally ultimately make the decision as to the rotation of the tournament.

A lot of those ADs have never been to an ACC Tournament in Greensboro. So it will be the first experience for a number of those folks. So it will be interesting.

The same thing in Charlotte. A number of them had never been here in Charlotte for an ACC tournament either. So those managing the transitions around the table is important and sometimes challenging because you're constantly losing some institutional memory every time somebody retires or leaves a position and someone else comes in.

But we'll see what the future holds. But I think the rotation or something similar to what we're doing now is probably what you will see in the future.

Q. From the outside, most people think first when it comes to the ACC of men's basketball and yet one of your ADs years ago was quoted as saying your TV partners viewed football as 80-plus percent of the value of the relationship. Do you believe that's true? And since we're here at basketball day, how do you describe more generally the value of men's basketball to your brand because a lot of folks were shocked to hear that this greatest basketball league could be worth only 19 percent or something like that of the total value?
JOHN SWOFFORD: You know, I think there are different kinds of values.

I would agree with what the athletic director was saying in today's world based on dollar value and media rights, yes. I would agree with that. And that's speaking from a commissioner's chair, I think it is fair to say that for years we were a basketball-centric league in a sense because of the long-term success and the consistent success nationally of our programs and the depth of our programs. And the fact that this league going all the way back to the late '50s was always ahead of everybody else in terms of basketball television. Late '90s, early 2000s, the media values really started changing, and quite frankly that was one of the reasons some of us in the league at that time sat down and said for us to be who we want to be, and generally who we are today, if not better, we're going to have to change and we're going to have to get bigger.

We're going to have to have more television sets. We're going to have to have a geographic footprint that exceeds where we were with nine institutions and we had to get better with football collectively and we had to have more impact at the national level from a football standpoint, because the business model in intercollegiate athletics at our level was changing, and it wasn't changing in a way that was particularly favorable to us and our strength competitively with basketball.

I would say, along with all that, that -- and fortunately we were able to do that, we expanded, I referenced all those things before, and we've really had some good success football-wise, particularly at the top but also depth-wise, when you look at bowls, when you look at our competitiveness within the league as well as outside the league, we've made a lot of progress and we needed to, if for no other reason was that it was shifting the business model.

But I will say basketball is more valuable in this league and to this league, in my opinion, than any other conference.

So the ratios may be a little different and there's no question that that in our relationship with ESPN, which is all in, basketball is tremendously valued because of who we have been for so long and continue to be.

Q. Going back to NIL, you mentioned you were afraid of a slippery slope to professionalism. What is the bright line for you for what is professionalism, I'll editorialize all this looks very professional you just got done talking about business and competitiveness and making money for the leagues and the schools, so what is that bright line for student-athletes and professionalism?
JOHN SWOFFORD: I'm not sure exactly what that bright line is. I think we almost have to get to particulars and define the particulars and see what it means or as best we can and see how it feels.

Certainly when you get to a point where it's an employer/employee relationship, that's a bright line, but that's the ultimate bright line. I think there are probably some others that maybe aren't quite as bright but would be there. But that's why I look forward to a more focused discussion from the working group on this to see where it takes us, because the collegiate model, amateurism, you have some people ask why not just do the Olympic model. To me the answer to that probably is recruiting. We recruit. The Olympics don't recruit; we do.

And I think we need to continue to have a national set of regulations that are consistent across the board and that are as best we can manageable because ultimately the whole compliance, back to the earlier question about compliance, I mean ultimately obviously a culture in a league, and particularly a culture at an institution matters in terms of that, in terms of compliance and managing the enterprise, so to speak, that is there to manage from a compliance standpoint. But it really gets down to individuals and individual integrity.

People know the rules. And it's usually not an institution that is breaking rules; it's individuals that are a part of that institution and representing institutions that have gone off the wagon there in terms of the compliance wagon and not an institution -- I don't know of an institution in our league that would knowingly be a part of breaking NCAA rules. I really don't. But what we can do is constantly try to provide the kind of guidance and the culture within institutions and athletic programs that minimize the risk that an individual or two or three are going to push beyond the limits in terms of compliance regulations.


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