ACC's Swofford believes Power 5 autonomy coming
GREENSBORO — ACC schools, its commissioner believes, will soon have a degree of autonomy with four other leagues while remaining under the NCAA umbrella.
John Swofford offered his prediction in convincing tone and talking points Sunday during his forum kicking off the league’s annual gathering of football coaches, players and media.
“I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t pass,” Swofford said of an Aug. 7 date when the NCAA’s steering committee on governance will send a final recommendation to the NCAA board on restructuring and the Power 5’s request for autonomy.
The ACC is aligned with the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences in trying to remain in the NCAA, including the enormous dollars of the men’s basketball tournament, while being able to have certain rules not needing approval from other Division I members. They say the cause is anchored by “student-athlete welfare” issues, such as cost of attendance scholarships, medical care after playing and financial support to finish degrees.
The Power 5 conferences include 65 schools, most with nine-figure operating budgets. The NCAA currently has three divisions, with varying rules governing each, such as scholarship limits by sport. If autonomy isn’t granted, the NCAA could soon have four divisions and significant change to March Madness involving smaller schools, some who don’t play football.
“The autonomy aspect of it just opens up a lot of opportunities for the five conferences to do some things that we feel are important, and most of those things are initially related to the student-athletes’ situation,” Swofford said.
He later added, “The good ship status quo has sailed. It’s time for some changes and some significant changes. And it’s going to present some challenges, but it’s time for that, and those are the right kinds of things to do and to address.”
Interestingly, Swofford said one of those things is “… it’s time for our student-athletes to have a voting voice at the national level. That is going to be in there.”
Whether the athletes know about it, or care, is up for debate.
Duke lineman Laken Tomlinson is currently working on a double major with plans to be a neurosurgeon — possibly after an NFL career. He could be Duke’s highest draft pick in years if not decades.
He said autonomy sounded like a “recipe for disaster.” He also followed that by saying he had not been made aware the change was close to happening, or that his league commissioner was pushing for it.
Asked what things he’d like to see in the deal for players, North Carolina’s Norkeithus Otis said he didn’t know of anything.
“A lot of the rules we have were made so long ago and were made for the good of the student-athletes,” said N.C. State’s Art Norman. “But a lot of things have changed.”
He added, “It wouldn’t be right to just pay the football and basketball players and not the other athletes. That wouldn’t be fair.”
And Norman admitted he hadn’t given it much thought since he’s a senior and wouldn’t experience the changes.
But Swofford, after opening with accomplishment after accomplishment for the football slice of the league, is excited about a new model. He said the choice and momentum was made before the possibility of Northwestern’s players forming a union.
“A lot of the issues that arose out of the Northwestern situation were issues that had already been identified,” Swofford said, “and this whole effort to restructure and give more autonomy to the schools that have the financial resources to address some of those issues started long before the Northwestern situation arose.”
Should the Power 5 be granted their wishes, several details will still need to be worked out, Swofford said. But the 18th-year ACC commissioner said the group is together on the concept.
“I think, within the five,” Swofford said, “we’ll need to immediately begin developing a process for the five conferences and how we operate together in bringing about legislation that would be permissive for the five as well as beyond the five for those who would want to take part in it.
“There’s going to be a lot of work to be done after Aug. 7th if this passes, as I believe and hope that it will, in order to start the ball rolling and determine how we are going to function.”
And the ACC, like the other four leagues, has a wish list.
“Well, the scholarship, I think probably the four-year scholarship, probably some changes in regulations related to the elite athletes and how they are able to make determinations as to whether they should go pro or not and who they can talk with during that process and still not lose their eligibility,” Swofford said. “And student-welfare issues, the 20-hour rule. That’s being abused — we know that. And what are the best scenarios for student-athletes in an educational environment that allows them to excel at the highest level but gives them the freedom to take advantage educationally of the things that they may want to take advantage of educationally.
“That’s important, too. I think there’s some things we need to look at — we talked about health and safety issues. Those would be on the table. So if you notice, that top five or six list is really related to the experience of the athlete.”
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