CHARLOTTE — The ACC is moving forward with plans to create a conference-centric television network, looking to launch in August 2019.
The ACC and ESPN made the joint announcement Thursday to open the 2016 ACC Football Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte hotel. ESPN now has a 20-year contract to broadcast ACC athletic events.
“Looking ahead to the immediate and long-term future, the ACC Network will provide incredible benefits to our universities and our student-athletes,” said Clemson president Jim Clements, who also serves as chairman of the ACC Council of Presidents. “This is a monumental time for the Atlantic Coast Conference, and it speaks volumes that this agreement, along with the Grant of Rights, was supported unanimously by the ACC Council of Presidents.”
This move has been rumored for multiple years, after the booming success of the Big Ten Network and, entering its third year on the air, the SEC Network.
In August 2016, ACC Network Extra will be launched as a digital live-events channel available to cable subscribers through WatchESPN and ESPN’s mobile application. That outlet will broadcast 600 live events in its first school year; by the time the ACC Network reaches television sets, the conference plans to broadcast 1,300 games and events each year.
“It was also very important to both ESPN and our league that we try to create a model in which each of the ACC’s 27 sponsored sports would be televised in some manner,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “I don’t know if we’ll get them all, as some are extremely difficult to produce for television, but by 2019, we’re going to be very close.”
More details about the network are expected to be released in the coming months.
The race for the top of the Coastal Division will have some new faces for the 2016 season, with Miami taken over by Mark Richt, Virginia hiring Bronco Mendenhall and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente taking over for retired Hall of Fame coach Frank Beamer.
“This is my ninth year in the league and there’s been a lot of change,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “These three guys landed in places that fit them well.”
Richt lands at his alma mater following a long run at Georgia, while Fuente cashed in on a 19-6 record with Memphis the past two seasons. Mendenhall, after an 11-year tenure at BYU, has perhaps the most challenging mountain to climb at Virginia, which had just one winning season in the past six under Mike London.
Mendenhall does have the name game thing going for him, though.
“We’ve got another ‘O’ in the league,” Cutcliffe said. “This Dabo-Jimbo-Bronco thing concerns me a little bit,” though he neglected to name the Atlantic Division’s lone new head coach: Dino Babers of Syracuse.
Quarterback Justin Thomas was named Orange Bowl MVP after carrying Georgia Tech to 2014 victories over Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State.
But after a swarm of fifth-year senior Yellow Jackets were gone and key offensive players were lost to injury, Thomas was surrounded by unprepared freshmen and suffered through a 3-9 season in 2015.
Finishing in last place in the Coastal Division, after being picked to win the whole thing last preseason. Where did it all go wrong?
“I get asked that a lot,” Thomas said. “It’s a lot different playing with 11 fifth-year seniors on offense on the field compared to freshmen. The ones you were counting on, get hurt, so you got to go to the next option. It’s a lot different when you’ve got 22-year-olds instead of 18-year-olds who’ve never played before.
“You watch our games, we were in every game except for maybe Clemson and Notre Dame. All the other games, we were one or two possessions away. It wasn’t like we were out there getting destroyed.”
Still, Thomas took responsibility for the Yellow Jackets’ quick fall from grace, particularly in Georgia Tech’s 43-24 loss at Clemson in which Tech committed three turnovers.
“I know we started off struggling. That was on my behalf, making crazy mistakes,” Thomas said. “That’s just something we have to correct this year, don’t hurt ourselves. Know that a punt’s not always bad. Just got to go in, take care of the ball, and do what we need to do.”
Thomas is one of the ACC’s three quarterbacks with 5,000 career yards of total offense, behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Miami’s Brad Kaaya.
The ACC Digital Network had some fun with participating players, asking them to spin a football and answer as many quick-hit questions (Chick-Fil-A or Bojangles? for example) as they could while the ball stayed in motion.
The Coastal Division player with the longest spin was North Carolina cornerback Des Lawrence, at 12.68 seconds. The worst spin? Surprisingly, Pittsburgh quarterback Nate Peterman’s spin lasted just 6.35 seconds.