ACC working to stabilize its cornerstones

Sara D. Davis, TheACC.com
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Sara D. Davis, TheACC.com
Sara D. Davis, TheACC.com

PINEHURST, N.C. – Earlier in the week, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) commissioner John Swofford presented and reaffirmed to the media in attendance at the 2015 ACC Football Kickoff, the league’s foundational cornerstones – academics, athletics, and integrity.

According to the commissioner, those tenets are what has guided the league’s decision-making process, and will continue to do so.

“We’ve got 15 institutions that are committed to insuring that the ACC’s cornerstones remain at the forefront of every discussion and decision,” Swofford said during his opening statement.

“It’s this continued set of league priorities that remains a prominent reason that every school is, one, dedicated to one another; dedicated to the conference itself; and dedicated to the appropriate balance of academics, athletics and integrity.”

The commissioner reinforced the conference’s need to continue touting the academic success of its student-athletes.

“Academically, when you look at our league, we need to continue to be the leaders across all measures of academic success, both specific to student-athletes, as well as to the collection of the institutions that make up our membership,” Swofford said.

“Whether it’s the GSR, the APR, the rankings from the U.S. News and World Report, we have consistently led the autonomy five conferences in those categories and we will make every effort to continue to do so.”

While prepping those in attendance on what to expect from the conference as the football season approached, a question arose about what the conference’s stance was regarding recent off-field conduct and legal issues related to a few players from Florida State, the 2013 ACC and national champions.

It was an inquiry regarding integrity, more or less.

”We discuss those issues and best practices and our athletic directors and presidents do that among themselves as a part of our ACC meetings,” Swofford said in response.

“Our approach so far, and I don’t really see this changing – it needs to be addressed head on. But we as a conference are really not trying to be big brother in that respect. Our institutions, not just with athletes, but they have very appropriate mechanisms on their own campuses to address those situations. This league has traditionally not gotten involved in suspensions or issues that happened unrelated to athletics. That’s what I’m talking about in terms of those as institutional, and our schools to this point prefer that that remain institutional.”

For some, it was an answer that dodged the issue for the conference, but a practical response as to how policy enforcement and discipline exists on various campuses – it’s their call.

However, that doesn’t mean that the ACC can’t develop its own set of overriding discipline steps, particularly in the case of players in question participating in conference play, tournaments and championships.

If an individual institution doesn’t make the ‘right’ or integral decision as defined by the member schools, for the good of the order, by not allowing a player(s) to compete due to conduct unbecoming of the integrity of the conference, then the league as a whole should be able to enforce that.

Not doing so only destabilizes a cornerstone which the ACC currently needs to stand tall on.

Is that playing Big Brother as Swofford referred to it?

Call it more accountability to conference partners in order for the cornerstone of integrity to be maintained.

It’s an area of significance to keep an eye on for the coming season.

Player discipline issues have and will likely continue to increase to test conference schools’ discipline policies and procedures, and eventually question the resultant outcomes as they relate to athletic competition at the conference and national level.

It’s a potential PR nightmare waiting to happen if not properly set to be dealt with, particularly during a high profile game.

Somehow memories of the 2013 ACC Football Championship game quickly come to mind.

Moving on to address the ACC’s third cornerstone – athletics competition – Swofford highlighted that area as being the conference’s focus on showing its leadership on a national level.

The bottom line is that the ACC wants to be at the top among the Power Five conferences, and while not having to its credit many national championships in football, it has manufactured the process to sit in the driver’s seat to lead the whole autonomy movement as it’s begun and currently evolving.

It’s a smart and strategic move by the ACC.

It’s no surprise that 11 of 14 member school presidents were heavily involved led by Wake Forest’s Nathan Hatch, nor that ACC senior associate commissioner for internal affairs and governance and compliance Brad Hostetter was heavily involved in the implementation and planning of that initial autonomy convention, as the commissioner described.

“Reflecting back and looking ahead, both, I would anticipate and expect this conference to continue to be prominently involved in the new NCAA structure and the new efforts with autonomy,” Swofford said.

“As you know, autonomy gives us the opportunity to address some concerns that are particular to the five conferences. And my feelings on the first year of that new structure is that it has been implemented very, very effectively. I think the first year has been very positive. I think it’s off to a great start. When you have all 65 of the schools in the five major conferences together in the same room, and you’re including student-athletes for the first time with voting privileges – that’s historic and I think very, very positive for the future of college athletics.”

If you direct the message and do a lot of the work, you will earn a lot of goodwill.

This will hopefully be the case for the ACC as more on-field success will reap more financial dividends and positive exposure.

A particularly important point to draw upon when the less positive exposure reveals itself.

That includes the NCAA’s final decision regarding the academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina that has drawn out for four-plus years and counting.

Apparently a conclusion to it all is nearing.

It could be a potentially crippling public relations situation that could take big chunks out of both the ACC’s cornerstones of academics and integrity in one shot.

Two chipped rocks as part of a foundation that would then leave only one remaining in the area of athletics competition to hopefully prop up member schools and the conference.

They will all have to stand on that one for as long as they can while pulling out the mortar to patch the other two up as quickly as possible.

“Athletically, what this league has been and is all about is providing broad-based programs and championship-caliber programs,” the commissioner continued.

“There are some challenges there going forward in order to continue to do that. A number of our ADs are in the room and they know our challenges well. Cost of attendance is the right thing to do, but it costs more money. Having championship programs requires significant investments in those programs. And over the past two years, ACC teams have won ten national titles, including football, men’s basketball, baseball, men’s soccer – in both years – women’s soccer, men’s tennis, men’s and women’s lacrosse and women’s golf. That fact screams nationally competitive and that fact screams broad-based programs, when you look at the breadth of national championships that this league has won.”