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March 12, 2020

John Swofford

Greensboro, North Carolina

THE MODERATOR: Good morning. Thanks for your patience as we get settled up here. Just a couple quick reminders, we'll have an opening comment and there will be a number of questions. We do have microphone holders here. We'd respectfully request that folks eliminate any flash photography as we go through this morning. With that, I want to introduce ACC Commissioner John Swofford.

JOHN SWOFFORD: Amy, thank you. Sorry to keep you waiting, but I was on a call with my A-5 commissioner colleagues, as I have been a lot recently, discussing together the situation that we're in. We're in a very fluid situation, obviously uncharted territory for us and for you, as well, I assume. Then it changes daily. It did change weekly at one point in time. It changes daily now and may well be changing hourly.

Right now we are ready to tip the afternoon session. We want to provide an opportunity to continue to compete in this tournament for our players. Our understanding and belief is that that is what they would want. It'll be under unique circumstances and will certainly be a moment and a tournament that those players will remember for unusual reasons, a tournament that you will remember because you'll be covering one unlike any other, a tournament that I'll remember because I've certainly never seen one like this or a situation like this.

Over the past two to three weeks, we as a league have been in almost constant conversations with the health authorities locally and in the state of North Carolina, with the CDC and with the NCAA. Those conversations and the advice that we have been given has changed along the way, as you well know. We try to make the best decisions we can make based on the best information that we can get at the time we make those decisions, and I think we have done that.

But with a situation that is as fluid as this one seems to be, now on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, that gets to be more and more challenging. We had thought going into this tournament that once the decision was made to play we would have the opportunity to complete the tournament. As it has turned out, obviously that opportunity did not happen.

We've had to make adjustments. Hopefully we won't have to make another adjustment during the next few days, but if it is deemed appropriate to do so and necessary to do so, we would do so. That's the type of fluid situation that we're in.

We want the environment that the players will play in today to be as good as it will be given the circumstances, and that's what we'll be trying to create. But obviously it will be different. The most important aspect of this is the protection of fans and anybody associated with this particular tournament, as well as the greater population. As I've said, going about that in the most appropriate way has changed and could possibly change again, and what the NCAA is doing next week could possibly change again.

So this is something that's much bigger than this tournament, much broader than this locale, because it's worldwide, and as I said, something we haven't faced in our lifetime.

So let me stop there. I will tell you the way we make decisions in our league generally is by consensus. That's the way I like to operate. That's the way I've tried to operate for 23 years now, and it's worked for us. I think we have an excellent culture in the league of trust, and that comes in really handy when you have a crisis situation, and this is a crisis situation.

We speak with regularity with our athletics directors and presidents, as we did yesterday. If we need to do so again, we will do that on a daily basis as we move forward. And obviously this won't stop with this particular tournament because we will move forward in terms of the spring sports and their regular-season competition and our ACC championship events. So we'll be making determinations on that. We've already had several discussions on that, and we'll move quickly on those decisions, as well.

I said I was going to stop, so I should stop. Any questions that you have?

Q. What does this mean for Greensboro in terms of getting the tournament in the future? Will the city have priority for any future events?
JOHN SWOFFORD: I don't know the answer to that. We haven't really discussed that. On a personal basis, my heart bleeds for Greensboro. What we have -- the decision that we have made will have quite an impact on this city, and this is where we were founded, this is where we live, this is where 27 ACC men's tournaments have been played and 20 or so women's tournaments, as well, and a lot of NCAA first and second rounds and even Final Fours. So there's a tremendous basketball history. This town loves the ACC. This town loves college basketball. So I feel for the impact on the city.

Q. The NBA has suspended its season until further notice; what's the difference between the decision being made by the major conferences now and the NBA and other professional sports organizations? Is it because college sports right now are heading into their postseason and this is where you make a lot of money?
JOHN SWOFFORD: No, I wouldn't say it's because of that. I'd say it's because the NBA made the decision when one of their players contracted the virus. I think that's the biggest difference.

What we have to look at, I think, is should you make that decision before one of your players contracts the virus. I don't know the answer to that right now. But that's one of the tough questions that's there that you weigh as you evaluate all this.

Q. Mark Emmert announced his decision regarding the NCAA Tournament yesterday about 4:15 and then you guys followed suit. Was there any consideration into closing the doors last night, and if not, why?
JOHN SWOFFORD: I received an email from Mark Emmert at 4:35 yesterday telling us what the NCAA had done yesterday afternoon and immediately set up a call with the other four commissioners, and I immediately set up a separate call with our athletic directors and our presidents. Both were fruitful. Both were extraordinarily helpful, and on our call with the presidents and ADs, there was full consensus that we should play last night. It was too close to the doors opening. And we would be creating more problems than we would be solving by not playing last night. So that's why we played last night.

And then we turned our attention to today and what we should do today, and we had a full consensus after a long discussion that we should proceed under a similar basis as to what the NCAA had indicated it would do during its tournament.

It was also evident that the other A-5 conferences were leaning in that direction and intended to do the same. I also called Val Ackerman at the Big East, who's a trusted colleague, and they have a great tournament, as the ACC does. Had a conversation with her, and the same conclusions came from that conversation as well as Bernie McGlade, who used to work here and many of you know is at the A10.

There's a lot of discussion and playing off each other and relying on each other as these kinds of decisions are made because we're all striving to do the right thing at the right time.

Q. Since this is a public health issue, you said earlier that the NBA canceled games because one of their players tested positive. Is that too late at that point? So we don't know if players have this virus? Is waiting for somebody to test positive too late?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Fair question, and I don't know the answer to that. It's probably a really easy answer to have after the fact. We're in a situation where we don't get to make decisions after the fact, and we're dealing and the medical people are dealing with a lot of unknowns in terms of the nature of this virus.

I think the answer to that question, if someone gets it, then maybe it was too late. If someone doesn't, maybe it was the right decision. There's risk in every path you take with something like this.

Q. Is there a protocol in place either from the conference level or the NCAA level in terms of if a player or coach or any participant is exhibiting any coughing or anything like that, is there anything, like a predetermined protocol that every team has to abide by, or is it a case-by-case basis?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Oh, I'm fully confident our medical people that are with our teams know fully well what to do with that if that arises.

Q. As the decision was being made yesterday afternoon, with all the discussions with all the presidents and ADs and athletics people, where were the health officials? Where was the governor? If you'd relied on their information all along to get to yesterday, where were they when the decision had to be made, and why were the sports people making the decisions?
JOHN SWOFFORD: The sports people were making the decisions based on the advice of the medical people. The governor's office has been terrific, his director of state health affairs, Betsey Tilson. We've had numerous conversations with her, too, yesterday. The governor was actually here yesterday morning for a brunch, then left, but spoke with him during that time, as well.

We had the benefit of the NCAA's medical advisory committee. We had that information.

So we're not going to make medical decisions in a vacuum without relying on medical people. I didn't mention all those calls. All those calls were a part of getting this all done, and some people want those decisions made within about five minutes. It doesn't happen that way. But the appropriate medical people continued to be involved. That was just a continuation.

There was also some -- I don't remember the name, but in Congress yesterday, another expert, medical expert testifying about the virus that came forward to us, as well.

Q. Has there been any discussion concern of administrators as to a specific school not wanting their athletes to play and withdrawing their team, and if that happens, how would the league proceed?
JOHN SWOFFORD: We have not had that come. It hasn't come up at this point in time. You know, if it did, I don't know that I could tell you in advance what we would do, but we would obviously need to address it and address it very quickly.

Q. I realize the tournament is taking up a lot of your decision-making time right now, and you mentioned there have been spring sports conversations. Is there any reason at this point to -- NC State just announced that they're basically following the same protocols that we are here now for their spring sports. Is there any reason at this point to expect the spring sports would proceed as normal, and what in your mind would lead to cancelling the spring season altogether as the Ivy League has done?
JOHN SWOFFORD: Well, we haven't talked about cancelling the season as the Ivy League has done at this point. It could come into consideration, determined by what the virus turns out to be. You know, that's why all of this is so fluid day-to-day or week-to-week, because we don't know. That is one foggy crystal ball in terms of what our country and the world is going to be dealing with over the next however long, which I think means that we will continue to make decisions that we hope are the right ones, but they may need to be adjusted fairly frequently.

Q. Based on your timeline as to when you all heard from Mark Emmert yesterday, it sounds like you and your fellow commissioners were left kind of scrambling after the NCAA's announcement. Does this highlight college basketball's need for more central leadership, a so-called commissioner for the sport?
JOHN SWOFFORD: You know, I don't know in a crisis situation like this if it -- I don't know that you translate that to the normal operational aspects of college basketball. I have for a number of years liked the idea of a basketball commissioner per se, and Danny Gavitt does a tremendous job in his current role, but his role has parameters.

Could that help? I think it generally could help, and therefore when there's something like this, and there's never been anything like this, so I don't think we normally -- we all of a sudden think, well, we have to develop a structure that is built around this being normal. But you do have to have a structure that's built to effectively manage crises when they happen. Not to say that this is mismanaged; I'm not saying that. The NCAA's action yesterday was surprising at the time that it happened, although we had some anticipation that the tournament itself may well be altered by that point in time.

So it was really probably just the timing, and as I said earlier, the timing with the way this is evolving, can't be helped. So we're all trying to do the best we can with something that you can't relate any of your past experiences to in reality.

Somebody asked me earlier, the only thing I can think of, and it's really not the same, it's just an extraordinary crisis, was my first year as the AD at North Carolina we played in the Final Four in the National Championship game against Indiana, and we left the hotel, and by the time we got to the arena President Reagan had been shot, and there was an immediate and long set of meetings with Walter Byers and Art Watson, who was the president of NBC Sports, and Bill Friday and I and the representatives from Indiana and Dean Smith and Bobby Knight were outside the door wanting to plead their case, and they weren't allowed in. But that was pretty sobering when you're sitting there and you don't know whether a president who has just been shot is going to live or die, and you're trying to determine whether you're going to play a National Championship basketball game or not.

Things like that and things like this, which could affect a multitude of people, it puts things in perspective. As much as we love this sport and all college sports, this will sober you up because the most important thing now is the well-being of our citizens.

What we have to try and do is continue to try and make appropriate decisions that are reasonable and responsible and hopefully in the best interest of helping do just that.

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