AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — ACC commissioner Jim Phillips wrapped up three days of spring meetings with a message of unity, saying his league athletic directors have told him “we’re all in this together.”
The week started with reports of seven schools having their own discussions about the league’s grant of rights and finding a path forward, but ended with Phillips and athletic directors publicly messaging that they will all work together to find solutions to the issues facing the league — starting with closing a massive revenue gap with the SEC and the Big Ten.
Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and NC State all had conversations among each other — taking athletic directors left out of the discussions by surprise.
Phillips said the athletic directors from those seven schools assured him, “We’re all in this together. We believe in the ACC and we want to continue to work together.”
Phillips said the fact those schools have taken a look at the grant of rights and had their own discussions about a path forward was “not a warning sign to me, that something bad may happen.
“These are schools that are under a lot of stress and a lot of pressures and, and I understand that,” Phillips said. “The reality is our conference is third in the country in distribution, and as we look at the projections, at least in this decade, we’re going to continue to be there. Now, we want to close the gap. We need to close the gap between the top two conferences that have started to run away from us.”
Phillips was not in the athletic directors meeting Monday, which grew contentious at times. But Phillips did say that hashing out the differences helped the conversations about revenue and the league’s future progress.
“In those moments, I think they either splinter you more, if that’s the direction, or they have a chance to bring you together and galvanize it some,” Phillips said. “I think everybody had a chance to talk. All 14, 15 schools had a chance to describe how they were feeling about it. That has to happen if you’re going to get to an end result. Then, along the road, you’re going to have some of these bumps and you’re going to have some of these things that you’ve got to work through.”
Phillips said the discussion about “success initiatives” to bolster revenue for schools that perform well on the field have gone well, but they are not ready to vote yet on the firm details about that model. That is much more progress than was made when initial discussions about changing the revenue discussion were first broached more than two years ago.
Getting everybody behind a workable model has been an important piece of the puzzle. But so has examining the grant of rights — which ties league schools together until the television contract with ESPN runs out in 2036. Nearly every ACC school has gone to the league office in Greensboro, North Carolina, to look at the document — including schools that were not a part of the separate conversations that caused so much tension.
NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan said the changing landscape has forced everyone to look at what is on the table.
“You’ve got the conference piece and you’ve got your campus piece, so you owe it to yourselves to explore every option that you possibly can, and that’s really what it was,” Corrigan said. “Because it has changed. The idea of everything staying the same is ludicrous. You’ve got to constantly be looking and growing and stretching and pushing and all of those things, and I think that’s what it was.”