Swofford anticipates ACC playing football, but braced for all scenarios

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Commissioner John Swofford addresses the media at ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte last July.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said Thursday that while he anticipates a 2020 college sports season, the league is braced to confront the pandemic with a Plan B, a Plan C, and a Plan D.

All those scenarios range from a traditional football season to an abbreviated season to no sports at all.

“We’re going into this year with the anticipation of playing at this point,” Swofford said during a videoconference following the league’s annual spring meetings. “Most of our institutions are indicating that they intend to open in various fashions as we go into the fall, but there is a lot that can happen between now and then.”

Most speculation has centered around the idea that the ACC won’t make any firm decisions until sometime in early July. Some of the decisions will be influenced by a new ACC coronavirus medical task force (comprised with a representative from all 15 schools), and will include constant testing of athletes when they return to campus.

“I think testing is going to be critical for us to get back to play,” Swofford said. “We may benefit from some of the things done by the NFL as it gets back into camp and plays under whatever circumstances they may play in. There are things that can be learned there.”

The commissioner said the goal is for common testing among the ACC member institutions to provide a comfort level for athletes knowing that the athletes they compete against are following similar protocol in safety issues.

When quizzed about whether football season is a possibility without students on campus for in-person classes as opposed to online classes from the safety of their homes, Swofford said that hasn’t been completely settled.

“If the students are back and in session and if campuses are back and generally operating and teaching in whatever way, I think that certainly improves the likelihood that games are being played, whether it’s with fans or without fans.

“I think that’s a realy good start if our institutions are coming back into session as most of them seem to be indicating at this point they intend to do.”

At least eight ACC schools have said they intend to open up in the fall, but Swofford said decisions could vary from one institution to another.

“That seems foreign to me, personally, because we’re part of an educating setting with intercollegiate athletics. It’s another unanswered question right now.”

The conference is braced for various scenarios, including a worst-case where there would be no football or any other sports.

“We’ll have four different scenarios financially as we move forward, possibly more, that are related to playing,” Swofford said. “[Those range] from a normal football season to playing an abbreviated football season to not playing football but playing basketball to not playing sports for a year. I certainly don’t anticipate that happening, but you have to take a look at the extreme of the circumstances we’re looking at.”

Some of the scenarios discussed have included delaying the start of the season to playing conference games only and eliminating nonconference contests, which would create a rescheduling issue.

Another situation that came up was what if one or more schools in the conference chose not to play football this season, would the remainder of the league continue to compete without them?

“I think probably so, but I don’t know what the threshold is for that,” Swofford said. “We haven’t reached a point of having that discussion, but I’m sure we will in due time. I don’t think some schools not being able to compete necessarily keeps most of the schools who could compete from competing, but again, it’s premature to answer that question.”

He also noted that the ACC has not discussed eliminating any conference championship events at this time. Again, he commented that would be premature. He did say that students returning to campus would greatly improve the likelihood of fall sports being played as usual, although the openings could vary because of the league members being scattered over 10 states.

On another note, Swofford reported some good news for the conference in terms of its financial status. Even though the ACC and NCAA basketball tournaments were cancelled, the commissioner said that the league will distribute 98 percent of its projected revenue for the current fiscal year to its member institutions.

“Given the circumstances, we feel pretty good about that,” Swofford said.

He also said that the league received more revenue than expected from the new ACC Network, despite the fact that some major cable companies still have not elected to pick up the programming.

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