Here's everything ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said at his ACC Kickoff Q&A session
On Wednesday morning, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips spoke at length about the future of the league, NIL regulations and potential expansion talks.
His remarks, which began the annual ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte, were not particularly well-received. Still, he covered a lot of ground about topics concerning the future of the ACC and college football at-large.
Here’s a transcript of his Q&A session from Charlotte, via CollegePressBox.com:
Jim, I’ll follow up with your last comments. How confident are you in the ACC’s place right now in this landscape when you make comments about a two- or three-gated neighborhood, considering where the revenue gaps will continue to grow and where the ACC is right now?
JIM PHILLIPS: I want to maybe level-set it. The last 20 minutes I think you got a sprinkling about where the ACC is nationally. All metrics, we are one of the leaders in the country in all of those areas I talked about, except the revenue piece of it, and that’s been brought to light with the recent move of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten.
A year ago we were talking about the same thing, and so truly over the last 18 months it’s been my primary focus. We were able to get distribution done. We have some other things coming forward relative to what we’re going to do in partnership with some revenue consultants that I’m really excited about being able to release that maybe by the end of the month.
We’re looking at our TV contract. We’re in engagement daily – almost daily with our partners at ESPN. I openly talk about ESPN because we are 50/50 partners on our network, and so they’re motivated, we’re motivated. We’ve come together to have some discussions about what would be the next iteration for the ACC. It doesn’t mean we’re going to make a move. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to make a move, but all options are on the table.
Revenue is certainly one piece and a really big piece as we move forward, but I will say it again, we need all communities healthy. When you think about where we’re at right now, we’re probably in the gated community as one of five. Maybe people have a different line of demarcation about who is in there. It really doesn’t take away from. We’re going to continue to try to find new ways to generate revenue for our conference.
Just wanted to backtrack a little bit on the CFP stuff. You had said initially there was basically too much going on in the NCAA world, the world of college sports to consider that proposal. With the change in leadership eventually at the top of the NCAA, are you prepared to sort of disconnect those things now and pursue CFP expansion unrelated to sort of the transformation, because it seems like those things are going to move on different timetables?
JIM PHILLIPS: We’re making progress, Luke, with the Transformation Committee. I think you’re going to see something at the end of August that’s pretty substantial with more work to be done. I think these things are walking along together, Luke, along with a new NCAA president.
I don’t expect us in September when we get together to line up and announce a new CFP structure. I think we’ve made great progress over our last two meetings both in April and in June, and everybody is motivated to come together.
So I don’t know that there’s a separation now with those things. We’ll see, but I think the health and safety, the 365-day calendar review. I mean, we’ve talked about access, automatic qualifiers. There’s a lot of things to discuss, but those things, again, I would tell you I do not think have really separated that much.
Jim, how concerned are you that the growing revenue chasm could turn the Power Five into a Power Two with the Big Ten and the SEC way ahead revenue-wise of the ACC? Is expansion the only real solution to cutting that down?
JIM PHILLIPS: I don’t know that it’s the only solution. I think you have to look creatively. We’ve been doing that over the last year. We’re going to continue to do that.
All neighborhoods need to be healthy. It’s not good for college athletics if we’re not, and, again, you heard my reference earlier. We understand where those two leagues are. No one is ignoring that. We’re all trying to find ways to close that gap.
So I know where our 17 – or our 15 schools are. We are really aligned to try to find some solutions to that revenue gap, but it can’t be at the expense of all the other things that we’re doing. So there’s I think a really good plan for us as we move ahead. Again, considering all of are our options. In these kinds of times you have to do that. This is unique what’s happened over the last 12 months.
JIM PHILLIPS: That was an error. 15 schools. Sorry about that. Thinking about your expansion number. (Laughter).
Commissioner, you obviously have been in the midst of a search for a new headquarters. Can you give us an update on that? And also, the North Carolina state legislature included incentive funds that would be dependent on having more championship events in the state of North Carolina. If that’s what you end up doing, would you be willing to meet that mandate in order to reach that incentive money?
JIM PHILLIPS: The process has been tremendous. I don’t think you can put a timeline. It’s such an important decision that you can’t put a three-month, six-month, eight-month. We started last summer. It’s been 12 months now. Newmark has led us incredibly well. We started with 18, 20 different cities. We have it down to three over two states.
These things take a life of their own when you start to deal with state legislators and senators and economic development and mayors. In the end what we’re trying to get down to this summer to finish it off is, what are the three proposals to bring forward to the board?
And the announcement by the state of North Carolina, awfully generous and awfully generous of Governor Cooper to sign that legislation and pass the budget, will be part of what we present to our 15 presidents for a decision.
We’re hopeful to have a decision I would say in the next month or two, but, again, I don’t really want to put an artificial timeline on it, because this thing has had the cadence that it’s going to take, but I feel tremendous about all that’s occurred there.
You spoke about the ACC wanting an expanded college football playoff. Did that have any influence with you going to the 3-5-5 scheduling next year?
JIM PHILLIPS: It did. It had an awful lot – again, when you talk about an expanded playoff, you’d like to crown your champion in a way that you have the two best teams in your conference playing for that championship game. Prior to the passing of the recent legislation, you had to go into divisions in order to have a championship game.
Now the ability for teams to line up in a singular division for there to be an opportunity to play within that singular division eight games and then we’ll crown the champion based on winning percentage. It definitely had impetus for what we did.
I’m curious, the way the alliance kind of dissolved, you’ve used a lot of terms like “the greater good,” “being in the same neighborhood.” Do you feel like the other commissioners share your mindset or approach in that regard?
JIM PHILLIPS: I do. I think we all understand we have a deeper responsibility than our own conference. Listen, I’m proud of the work that we did in the alliance. It was the Big Ten’s decision to do what they did. That’s not for me to judge. They did what they felt was in the best interest of the conference, but we did some really significant things together over the period of 12 months, including legislation that we just talked about earlier in my remarks.
We have to continue to try to come together. Really look forward to working with Brett, new commissioner. I do want to say this, I’m remiss if I didn’t spend just a moment thanking about Bowlsby, the commissioner of the Big 12, who has been a great friend and a mentor and somebody that I just think the world of who just announced, obviously, his retirement of maybe six, eight months ago, but officially retires at the last month.
I can say a lot of things about Bob Bowlsby, but Bob Bowlsby made college athletics better and excited for he and Candice and their family to do what they’re going to do in the next chapter. I’m looking forward to working with Brett, just like I do with George, just like I do with Greg and with Kevin and all our FBS commissioners.
Then I think we have a really nice group of 32 commissioners. You’re going to have to come together. We’re going to have to continue to work together, and I’m optimistic about us being able to do that.
As wild as the last 12 months have been and the unexpected departures of big-time programs to other conferences, how confident are you that you will be able to maintain your current membership of all your schools in the ACC that they will not defect? And also, isn’t it important to re-evaluate and potentially try to talk to Notre Dame about joining the conference in football to help strengthen the ACC going forward?
JIM PHILLIPS: I love our 15 schools, and I’m confident in us staying together. That’s all I’ve heard in all the calls that we’ve had. We want to work together to try to provide more resources to our student-athletes, so we’re all on the same page.
I sat here a year ago talking about Notre Dame and whenever I’ve been asked the question, we continue to remain close with Notre Dame. They know how we feel. They know that we would love to have them as a football member in the conference, but we also and I also respect their independence. Having worked there, having two children there, going to school right now, one a student-athlete, I know what independence means to Notre Dame. So you respect it, and I know that if there comes a time that Notre Dame would consider moving to a conference and away from independence, I feel really good about it being the ACC.
(Off microphone) To go a little further on that, you’ve been talking about expansion, and you said that everything is on the table, there’s all options. So are you having those ongoing conversations with teams across the country, and is this something that you’re really heavily looking at in an expansion of memberships, seeing what the Big 12, the Big Ten, and the SEC have already done in the past 12 months?
JIM PHILLIPS: I’m not going to talk about any of the details about who we have or haven’t talked about, but we’ve had lots of really good discussions within the ACC, and I think you have to be thoughtful, you have to be smart, you have to be strategic. Making a move just to make a move doesn’t make any sense.
In the end what is the value that ends up coming back to the conference if we were to expand? All of those things have to be under great scrutiny and dialogue and ultimately some kind of formation of what we think is best.
It has been suggested by some, including some administrators in your own league, that the ACC look at its revenue distribution formula. Are there discussions ongoing about rewarding performance and brand value when it comes to distributing revenue among the league members?
JIM PHILLIPS: David, I would go back to what I said earlier and answered: All options are on the table. When you look at revenue, you look at closing the gap, you look at generating more, you look at distribution, it all is part of a similar conversation.
Commissioner, you mentioned fair regulation of the NIL and it differing from state to state. What are your personal thoughts on a player having his money regulated off his own image and likeness? What are your personal thoughts on it? Can you just elaborate on that, please?
JIM PHILLIPS: I think every administrator in the country believes the ability for student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness, that was a good movement a year ago, but it has rocked our college athletics world. We all have kind of vowed to stay within certain boundaries as it relates to rules and regulations. This is one that doesn’t have any right now.
So that’s where the bumpiness has come into, and that’s where the uneasiness that I certainly feel within our conference and I know other commissioners feel in their conferences. We really, really need some help in Washington. That’s a tough place to be.
America has a lot of issues going on right now. I’m not sure that that’s a priority for our lawmakers, but I will say we have been engaged with quite a few congressmen and women and senators on both sides of the aisle, and I feel like we’re creating at least a little bit of momentum here. We all hope that something can occur over the next six, eight, ten months where there is something adopted that we could all abide by across the college athletics universe.
Just two questions: Based on your confidence that you can keep your current membership together and the conversations you’ve had with the presidents, does this mean you’re also confident the grant of rights will not be challenged, as has been speculated by many over the past couple of weeks? And then, secondly, in the next few years, of course, media rights are coming to an end. There will be negotiations. We’ve heard a lot about Fox and ESPN. Do you sense another network or networks being involved in the conversation with the ACC in some way?
JIM PHILLIPS: So I can just go by what history has told us with the grant of rights, including in current times. People talked about Oklahoma and Texas leaving immediately. I think that’s pretty well-stated now that that’s not the case. They’re going to wait until their grants of rights is over.
Listening to UCLA and USC at the end of June, June 30th, and subsequent days after they clearly are going to stay in the PAC-12 until their grant of rights is over.
So you can follow the logic there. I would think that the significance of what that would mean, the television rights that the conference owns as well as a nine-figure financial penalty, I think it holds, but your guess is as good as mine.
As it relates to TV partners, again, I don’t want to speculate about what anyone else has done. We have a deep relationship with ESPN, a valuable relationship, and they’re the ones that created the network with us. They’re the ones we partnered with. I give so much credit to Commissioner Swofford for all of his work. We’ll stay close because in the end it has to add value to your conference, and you can define value in different ways. You can define value from an academic standpoint. You can define value about athletic success and competitiveness. Are they an AAU research institution? You can also define it by money and does it have value to your conference? Would it have value to your conference?
That’s the same exercise that I think has been going on for college athletics for a long, long time. Hope that answers your question.
Your sincerity in the belief in the collegiate model is obvious. I don’t think anyone can question that, but in fairness to you, we are going to be critical of that because it does seem a bit old-fashioned. Do you think this attitude still works in 2022 and that it will still work in the next five to ten years for the ACC as you get lapped financially by the Big Ten and the SEC?
JIM PHILLIPS: We owe it to those kids, Joe. This is no time to be waving a white flag on that. I’m not trying to be Polyannish about it, because I live in the real world and the real time, just like all of us do, and times change and move, but for us to ignore the affordability and access and opportunity that it provides to young people, I think that would be a huge mistake, huge mistake.
I’m okay with living in different neighborhoods. That’s not my point about, you have to be in the gated community. My point is the community is best when all neighborhoods are healthy. All of them. Some will never reach $25 million or $30 million in revenue to provide for their athletics department, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be a part of it, part of the system, part of championships at times. We’re talking about different levels within Division I. We’re talking about subdivisions and those types of things in the transformation committee.
If we take that path that it’s only going to be about football and basketball, that’s shame on all of us. It just is. I understand. I understand the criticism that comes with that, and that’s okay. I think it’s up for public debate and opinion about what’s right. I know, I understand about getting lapped. I do. I get it. I’ve been in those conferences. I worked in the Big 12 – or Big Ten for 12 years. I was in the SEC. But I was also in the Mid-American Conference, and I know what those kids did at Northern Illinois. The only thing that was different was the name on the jersey and the colors. They were just as committed to having a great experience as those coaches were just as committed. It was a situation where I left Notre Dame to go to Northern Illinois. I digress a little bit. I had people tell me, why are you leaving Notre Dame to go to Northern Illinois? You’re leaving the brightest of all bright lights for a directional school. My first AD job.
I started to question it before I took the job. Did I just make the right move? Three, four, five, six people: Northern Illinois? Where is that? Northern Illinois?
I was on campus for about three hours, and I knew I exactly made the right decision. The neighborhoods look different, but are we going to really try to do what we can to keep the community healthy? That’s a question we’ll all have to answer.
With regard to the grant of rights, you just referenced UCLA, USC, Oklahoma, and Texas. Due respect, Commissioner, they had two to three years left on the grant of rights. The grant of rights here lasts another 14 years. Do you really anticipate the conference and the university standing pat for that long?
JIM PHILLIPS: Everything is on the table. We understand what that means. We understand what that revenue means moving forward, but I will also say, as I look at the next few years, I like where we’re going. But, again, the window is through ’36, so we’re going to have to address it, no question.
Your point is a good one. Your point is a good one.
THE MODERATOR: That’s going to conclude the formal part of today’s Commissioner’s forum. We’re going to flip this room where are. Our first team will be in here at 10:45. We appreciate all of you joining us today. Thank you.
JIM PHILLIPS: Thanks again. Thanks for being here. Look forward to seeing you over the next couple of days.