ACC chief downplays strife, ‘conference is strong’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — ACC commissioner Jim Phillips emphasized his league remains committed and together during the ACC Kickoff on Tuesday, saying, “Our conference is strong” in response to questions about the future of the conference.

Phillips addressed the two biggest issues that face the ACC: a growing revenue gap with the SEC and Big Ten that has been the source of frustration and consternation, and the speculation that conference expansion could affect his league. Both were major topics of discussion during tumultuous spring meetings last May, when reports surfaced that seven schools had their own discussions about the league’s grant of rights and finding a path forward.

But Phillips said those spring meetings helped bring league presidents and athletic directors together. Shortly after those meetings ended, the ACC agreed to a new revenue distribution model that rewards on-field performance.

“I’m well aware of the narrative and stories surrounding the ACC and our members as well as the frustrations of some of our schools on our financials,” Phillips said. “But these are not new. While there are legitimate discussions and stories regarding revenue and our membership, it’s important that all of us never lose perspective on just what we are doing together. The bottom line is our conference is strong and I’m extremely bullish about our future together.”

While the ACC remains No. 3 in revenue behind the SEC and Big Ten, the revenue gap with those two conferences is set to grow when those two leagues begin their new television deals, with one athletic director estimating the gap could be $30 million annually. Because the SEC and Big Ten have recently expanded, speculation surrounding what happens to the ACC has been rampant over the last two years.

But the league also has a 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 back in May.

“The league is healthy,” Phillips said. “We all saw what happened in the springtime, but the group has come together in a way that demonstrates they want to come together to find solutions. Revenue distribution continues to be a priority. We’ve had multiple TV consultants. Third is a good position but we want to gain traction financially in order to close the gap with the SEC and Big Ten.

“I think one of the presidents said it best: ‘Are we chasing a dollar amount or are we chasing success?'” Phillips continued. “I think there’s a difference there. If you’re chasing a number it takes you down a different path. If you’re chasing success competitively, every institution has an idea of what they need. So again, I feel really strongly about this league and I think people are missing it when they’re not paying attention to the results of how well the conference has done.'”

Phillips described the ACC spring meetings as a turning point, as the league presidents now meet weekly. He estimated they met more in the summer than in his first two years as commissioner combined.

“It was painful to go through, nobody liked it, but it really started to develop this honesty and more candor than anything else about: Here are the issues we have, or here’s what we’re concerned about, and I think that’s healthy,” Phillips said. “We meet once a week now, sometimes more, so they’re attentive, they’re aware so at the end of the day you turn a tough situation into a positive one.”

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