David Kehrli, Correspondent
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The ACC Kickoff began Thursday, with a slew of press conferences and media availabilities for coaches and athletes of each Atlantic Division school.
The event started and ended with two entirely different press conferences, beginning with a conference with Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Commissioner John Swofford and finishing with an officiating forum led by Dennis Hennigan, the ACC Coordinator of Football Officiating.
Swofford covered many topics, highlighted by applauding the improvement of the ACC and went on to say the conference is as competitive as it’s ever been.
“When you look at Clemson’s run to the National Championship this year, obviously the win over Alabama was as exciting and went to the last second and was as tough as it gets,” Swofford said.
“But getting to that game, Clemson’s two toughest games were against conference opponents at home, N.C. State and Pitt. And Pitt won that game. And State could have won that game. And Clemson was the best team in America, proven at the end. If that doesn’t tell you something about where ACC football is today, I’ll give you my glasses, because we’ve made some progress.”
Swofford also discussed the overall improvement of each ACC team’s non-conference slate and how it better prepared each school for the powerhouses of opposing conferences.
“Looking ahead to this season, our teams are once again playing arguably the toughest non-conference schedules of any league,” Swofford said.
“That’s something we started talking more and more about five, six, seven years ago, that we had to step up to the plate, improve our own league, play our share of tough outside competition, and win our share of those games. Our programs have done that.”
Swofford talked extensively about the new and improved ACC linear network set to launch in 2019, which will give the ACC its own channel in continuous efforts to expand media coverage of collegiate football.
“Preparing to produce and distribute over 1,500 events between the linear and digital networks requires a lot of planning and preparation and obviously some lead time to do it right and launch it in the way we want to launch it,” Swofford said.
“ACC and ESPN teams are diligently working to complete the multiple tasks that are required for the launch, and we’re extremely pleased with the progress. And not only pleased with the progress, we’re, as a part of that, right on schedule. And in several instances, slightly ahead of schedule in the various phases of the network operations and buildout.”
Hennigan led Thursday evening’s officiating forum, where he explained new rules changes.
Starting in 2017, coaches who go onto the field of the play with the purpose of objecting to a call will receive a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Previously coaches were assessed a warning before a penalty was given.
Two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same coach will result in that coach being disqualified from the contest.
For the purpose of player safety, defensive players will not be allowed to hurdle the offensive line in an effort to block PATs and field goals.
Additionally, the horse-collar foul now includes grabbing the nameplate area to drag the ball carrier down.
To speed up games, the ACC is changing the way halftime is timed.
Instead of starting the 20 minute halftime clock when all players and coaches have left the field, the clock will start immediately following the end of the first half.
The ACC Kickoff continues Friday with media availabilities for players and coaches of Coastal Division schools.