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ACC commissioner Phillips remains optimistic despite turmoil

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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — With the future of the Atlantic Coast Conference in question, commissioner Jim Phillips expressed optimism Wednesday that the league can still be salvaged.

The path forward is unclear, but not without hope.

“You have to stay optimistic, and you work through these things,” Phillips said at the conclusion of the league’s annual spring meetings. “Again, I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I continue to remain optimistic. I continue to remain optimistic about our league.”

The ACC has experienced significant disruption in the past six months, most notably with Florida State and the league suing each other in December. Clemson followed suit, and North Carolina could be next.

“I always am optimistic about a really good ending on difficult situations, and I won’t ever change until somebody else tells me differently,” Phillips said. “Am I going to fight and protect the ACC? Absolutely. I have to do that; that’s my responsibility. The convergence is here, and we’ll see where it goes.”

The ACC’s TV contract leaves the conference lagging well behind the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten in annual revenue. Florida State officials have said the gap could grow to $40 million per year.

That gap could widen even further with a new revenue distribution model for the College Football Playoff, which increases the takeaway for all schools in the power conferences but leaves ACC schools roughly $8 million a year behind SEC and Big Ten schools.

Phillips said a formula based on CFP rankings over the first 10 years of the event was used to help determine revenue shares.

“I felt like I negotiated hard, just like every conference did, and we got to a place that at the end of the day, do you love it? You don’t love it, but it certainly was better than where we started and it’s more than we’ve ever had relative to CFP dollars,” he said. “But I, again, understand it causes even a greater gap.”

The ACC will add Stanford, California and SMU this summer, making it a 17-team, coast-to-coast football conference. The additions came despite objections from Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina.

Florida State and Clemson are both attempting to sue their way out of the ACC, challenging the conference’s exit fees and the contract that binds the schools together via a media rights deal with ESPN that runs through 2036.

Earlier this week, North Carolina trustees voiced their displeasure with ACC and the lack of action taken by athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

Florida State athletic director Michael Alford reiterated Tuesday the school has not given any formal notice to the ACC that it plans to exit the conference.

He said he addressed some of the chatter about Florida State’s unhappiness with the ACC with his colleagues, but the relationship remains solid and professional.

“We don’t really talk about all of the legal proceedings going on. We let the lawyers handle all that,” Alford said. “Right now we talk about scheduling. How we’re going to improve the conference. Move football along. We have not really addressed an exit strategy inside the room.

He added: “We’ve never come out and said, ‘We want to leave the conference.’”

The ACC is implementing a bonus system to reward schools that have football and basketball success to address some of the revenue concerns that Florida State and others have raised. Stanford, Cal and SMU all have agreed to receive a reduced distribution as they enter the ACC, with that extra money from the ESPN deal being directed to the bonus pool.

Alford said there has been no more discussion about alternative and unequal revenue distribution models.

“We’re still looking at the success initiatives,” Alford said.


Phillips said the ACC presidential board will vote soon on whether to accept a potential settlement agreement in an antitrust case that will set a framework for revenue sharing with college athletes. The proposed settlement of House vs. the NCAA would allow schools to spend upward of $20 million per year on athlete compensation.

“Everybody in the league feels comfortable with the financial commitment that might be required if what we’ve seen gets approved,” he said. “I think they’re all digesting that. … Some flexibility in a final kind of decision and a final agreement will be helpful for our schools.”


ACC football coaches spent part of their time in Amelia Island talking about how the conference can change the perception of the quality of football being played in the league after Florida State’s CFP snub last year.

While coaches said the ACC needs to have more football-focused marketing and messaging, Phillips noted that the conference cable network is “dominated” by football coverage, but the league is planning to do more.

“When I came here, I got crucified because I said the future is going to be dictated by football and the basketball coaches were really upset,” Phillips said.


ACC basketball coaches worked on ways to get more teams into the lucrative NCAA Tournament moving forward.

The conference landed five NCAA bids in each of the past two years, with three teams advancing to the Elite Eight and North Carolina State reaching the Final Four before losing to Purdue this year. The ACC went 12-5 and notched the second-best winning percentage among conferences.

“I just wasn’t happy with the amount of teams that we had, so we’ve been working hard over the last four to six weeks with some outside help outside of consulting,” Phillips said.


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