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Swofford looks to the future for ACC

In what has become an early-December tradition for Charlotte and the ACC, the league’s football championship game returns to Bank of America Stadium on Saturday with Coastal Division champion Georgia Tech playing Atlantic Division winner Florida State.

The game, which has been played in Charlotte since 2010, will remain in the city through at least 2019. ACC Commissioner John Swofford talked earlier this week to Observer deputy sports editor Harry Pickett and reporter David Scott about the league’s commitment to Charlotte and other issues facing the conference and intercollegiate athletics:

Q. How comfortable has the ACC become having the football championship game in Charlotte now?

A. “It’s not our first rodeo in Charlotte. Each year it gets easier from a logistical standpoint and hopefully we’re building something as a conference with the city and surrounding area that people look forward to every year. The local support we get and combine that with the all that uptown (Charlotte) has to offer – and that it’s a walkable distance to a superb stadium – make it a recipe for success for us.”

Q. That said, why isn’t Charlotte more in the mix for the ACC basketball and baseball tournaments?

A. “We’re already coming there for basketball in 2019. Our schools wanted to rotate the basketball tournament because it’s not just two schools coming to play, like football, but all 15 of us. With our expanded footprint, our schools felt the need to continue rotate the basketball tournament. New York (where the tournament will be played in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn from 2017 and ’18) is an important market to us.

“Our schools made the decision they’d like to leave the baseball tournament in one place for a four-year period and Durham won that. Charlotte has a magnificent baseball facility, but there was at least one conflict for them over the four-year period.”

Q. Has the recent launch of the SEC Network moved up your timetable on wanting to start an ACC television network?

A. “It’s something we’re working on in a way I describe as being ‘quietly aggressive.’ The SEC has been very successful right out of the gate with its distribution. And anything we do will be done with ESPN as our partner. I don’t really want to get into particulars of when that might be.”

Q. How do you think the lead up to college football playoff has gone?

A. We’ll need to see how the whole process plays out to see how well it’s gone, to see what might need to be tweaked. But I think it’s gone well so far. One of the concerns was whether it would damage the regular season, which it’s fair to see to say is the best in sports. What we’ve found out so far in the first year is that playoff hasn’t not damaged the regular season, it’s enhanced it.”

Q. Are four teams the right number?

A. “I think it’s right number at this time, for the right reasons. From a purely football standpoint, eight teams might be the sweet spot. But I don’t see that happening over the next four years. It took us years to get to this number and we need to make sure we’re doing that as well as we can before thinking about eight.”

Q. How has Notre Dame’s first season as a partial member in football gone?

A. “Very well. It’s helped us enhance our bowl lineup, which benefits all our schools. And it gives Notre Dame an attractive bowl lineup to be part of.”

Q. The ACC has submitted three legislative proposals to the NCAA as part of the recently adopted Division I autonomy process with cost of attendance, loss-of-value insurance and scholarship renewals. Does this kick-start a new era in intercollegiate athletics for schools in the “power” conferences?

A. “I think it does. We’re in a period where there is going to be significant changes in student-athlete benefits and I think that’s appropriate. The hope is that it can be done within the context of our fundamental collegiate model that’s been part of collegiate athletics for a long time.”

Q. How was it that the ACC is taking the first step by introducing the proposals?

A. “It was appropriate that we did. Other conferences will be very much in line with us because this is something we’ve been talking about internally for a number of years now. It started with the whole idea of a $2,000 stipend a couple of years ago, which didn’t get off the ground. Now some persistence is finally paying off to bring the collegiate model into the 21st century.”

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