ACC’s Jim Phillips on NIL, CFP expansion and trying to ‘see around the corner’

·5 min read

On a conference call Thursday to recap the ACC’s virtual annual meetings only an hour or two after the Pac-12 hired a new commissioner, Jim Phillips joked that he was 115 days into his tenure but already no longer the new kid in the room.

“Usually when you’ve been on a job for 100 days or so, you’re kind of the new person for an extended period of time,” Phillips said. “As of this call today, I’m not the newbie anymore, the newest commissioner in the Power 5. That’s a good thing.”

It has been a busy three-and-a-half months for Phillips, who took over for John Swofford on February 1 and completed his listening tour of all 15 campuses Friday at Clemson.

During that brief time, the ACC eliminated all restrictions on intraconference transfers -- “It needed to be done when the ACC was ready to do it and not when the NCAA was ready to do it,” Phillips said Thursday -- staggered to the end of the basketball season without a team in either Final Four for the first time since 2013 and only the third time since 1996, and won its first NCAA title on Phillips’ watch, North Carolina’s field hockey championship.

But most of Phillips’ attention is looking forward, given the wide range of challenges and changes facing not only the ACC but the college sports world at the moment. That includes the patchwork of name, image and likeness laws that will go into effect July 1, the growth of the ACC Network, College Football Playoff expansion, the ACC’s delicate balance between football and basketball and the increasing prevalence of legalized gambling.

As Phillips put it, a big part of the job that’s even more important than it is for an athletic director, as he was at Northwestern, is trying “to see around the corner” on all of that and more.

“For a conference office, try to stay ahead of things that maybe we don’t see directly, are harder to see,” Phillips said. “But maybe if you use creativity and thought you have a chance to do that.”

Name, image likeness and the ACC Network

One question Phillips was asked Thursday was about a very uniquely ACC issue: How do you leverage football to generate more revenue without losing touch with the ACC’s basketball tradition?

“One of the reasons I wanted to come to the ACC was basketball,” Phillips said. “I love the sport and nobody does it better than the ACC. I love women’s basketball and men’s basketball. I just love that game. I also understand, we all understand, just the economics of football. I don’t see the economics changing at all at any time in the future, near or far, relative to the ability to generate resources for your schools and for the conference.”

These were some of the other topics Phillips addressed Thursday:

On the NIL laws that will take effect July 1 in Florida and Georgia within the ACC footprint, among other states, and his belief Congress has to address it and not the NCAA: “I’m not that optimistic we’re going to get something done by July 1 but that’s not going to be catastrophic. We’ll be OK. We’ll figure out a temporary kind of bridge until we get national legislation.“

On the growth of the ACC Network, which is ahead of projections but still with a big Xfinity-shaped hole in its carriage within ACC country: “I’d just remind everybody we’re still in the infancy stage. I know the history of the Big Ten Network quite well, quite intimately. They had over a decade jump on us and you can see the success of that particular network. We’re bullish on our future as well and feel very strongly we’re headed in a similar kind of direction. Distribution’s ahead of schedule, which I think is important, even though we have some areas where we still want to increase distribution.”

College football expansion, ACC divisions

On CFP expansion: “We’re comfortable with where things are but it’s just as important to understand you have to look at other options. You just do. It’s part of what’s necessary. … We’ve had seven years of really good data. It’s a tremendous event, but is there a better model? We owe it to the membership, we owe it to ourselves, the membership, the fans, to look at that.”

On whether the ACC would want an automatic bid into an expanded eight- or 12-team CFP field: “If we expanded, you’d want access, each of the Power 5 would want access, no different than the Group of 5 would want access. So we’ll have to work through that. As I sit here today, I’m in favor of having access for the ACC if the CFP expanded.”

On the future of ACC football divisions, which were not missed during the ACC’s COVID contingency plan last fall: “We have started to at least begin conversations. Especially for me being new to the conference, how did we get to divisions? How did we get to eight games? Is, long-term, divisions the right thing? Is eight games the right thing? … I think we have to be open to all of that as we look forward.”

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