John Swofford's reign as commissioner of the ACC will perhaps be defined by the expansion of the conference from nine to 12 teams, a move designed to increase football prestige and geographic reach. Swofford, a former quarterback at North Carolina now in his 13th year as ACC commissioner, talked about the challenges facing the conference, TV contract negotiations and expanding the NCAA basketball tournament when he went One-on-One with The Post and Courier's Travis Sawchik:
With the SEC enjoying a $3 billion, 15-year television deal, much talk has centered on the ACC's television contracts, which expire after next season. Where are you in the negotiation process, and how much will the negotiations be affected by the recession?
"We are in negotiations now with current partners (ESPN and Raycom). Contractually that's who we are negotiating with at this point. Every negotiation is a little different in circumstance and timing and the economy, all of those things enter into it. We are confident it will turn out well. How well and in what form, we are not there yet at this point in time. We are looking at various ways to maximize revenue as well as maximize our exposure, at the same time try to find the best ways to take advantage of new media and new media platforms and how to monetize them."
When will you talk to potential new television partners, and will you package basketball and football together?
"It could come at the end of the contractual period, which would be more toward the end of April. Or if all parties agree it could come before the end, or if a deal is done with our current partners it may never get to that point. And all those are possibilities. … We have the opportunity to combine basketball and football properties together if we choose to do so. We have not done that in the past, but the conclusion of the current contracts were set up purposely so we could do that if we felt like that was the best route to go."
Do you worry about the SEC's position of strength?
"No, what we want to do is what's best for our conference at this particular point in time given the circumstances we have. That's all we can ask of ourselves and our current situation."
Might a shorter-term contract be beneficial in regard to negotiating in a better economic climate?
"You can look at it that way. It is one thing to consider from our standpoint. The other side is the longer-term deal maximizes revenues for that particular time. But there might be something to be said for a shorter-term deal, looking for a better and stronger economic time and negotiate out in front of the Big Ten and SEC the next time around. I'm not saying we are going to do that, but they are considerations as we go through. … It's a fast changing world. The world of TV looks very different now than it did five six years ago."
Are you in favor of expanding the NCAA Tournament?
"I am open-minded about it. I will say if we were to go down that track we need to do it very carefully, because, I think the tournament is awfully good as it exists. It has been expanded a number of times, seemingly just continues to get better and better. My concern would be the impact it might have on the relevance of the regular season and conference tournaments."
There's been a lot of speculation about conferences expanding, and some speculate there might be four super conferences down the road. How do you see the landscape changing?
"I don't think that we would have those few conferences. I'll be interested to see if there is a next round of changes in conference affiliations and just how much conferences grow. I'm not surprised there is discussion. All you have to do is look at history, it happens periodically … I'm a fan of a 12-member conference. Once you get beyond that a conference can become very difficult to manage as well as more and more difficult to develop its own culture."
So you're not interested in expanding the ACC?
"I don't think there is a desire to do that within the ACC. I think we are comfortable with 12 as a number, and very comfortable with the 12 we have. I think it has given us a place of stability in terms of the 12 we are."
Has there been any threat of losing a conference member?
"Not to my knowledge. There was a press report that had thrown out Boston College and Maryland. Both institutions came out very promptly and strongly stated they had no interest in being anywhere other than the ACC."
Is there a movement for realignment within the ACC?
"No, not really. We are at five years with divisions. We are building some history with that. I think periodically you step back and take a look. But at this point I don't see that changing in the near future."