For most people, mid-July is the halfway point of their Summer. For the college football world, it is the end of Summer, the beginning of conference media days, and a look forward to “Fall” camp which is only about two weeks away for most schools. Two days in Charlotte, NC gave us plenty of ACC Kickoff news and notes.
ACC Kickoff News And Notes
While each coach was there to talk about his team, players, and expectations for the upcoming season, there was a running theme of topics throughout the two days. Name, Image, and Likeness, the transfer portal, and the sweeping changes in conference affiliations have changed the national landscape. While most coaches prefer to focus on the microworld they can control, all of college football is living in an ever-evolving world.
That was never more evidenced than by ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips spending about 30 minutes addressing some of these hot topics. As we reported Wednesday, Phillips was conveying the messages that the conference was in rock solid shape; that the Grant of Rights was impenetrable and thus the conference would stay put for the next 14 years; that the conference was in danger of being financially lapped by other conferences who were showing flexibility; and that all options were on the table.
With more moves to be made in the musical chairs game of conference realignment, it seems implausible to believe a conference can stand pat with an increasingly inferior TV contract for the next 14 years. But the ACC media days were full of conference and school officials who believe changes are coming in the next year or two, and others who think it is viable to make no changes for the decade-and- a-half.
One potential adjustment would be to stagger conference payouts to schools in a tier system based on their perceived value in the TV deal. Clemson would make more than Boston College. Of course, any re-opening of the revenue agreements opens the Grant of Rights vault.
All the coaches will tell you that topic is above their pay grade. But there was plenty to talk about with other topics, both on and off the field.
This was going to be a given. There is no bigger topic in college sports because it impacts recruiting, current rosters, and the underlying system of college sports.
To a man, every coach proclaimed support for NIL. There was never a chance they would say anything else, with three of their current players sitting on stage with them. But there was a resounding call for a uniformed national NIL plan. Several ACC members do not like the idea that 28 states are making their own laws, and 22 states are sitting out having any thought on it.
UNC coach Mack Brown said, “There are so many positive things with name, image, and likeness. Where we missed it as a group is that we didn’t have any guardrails. Then that starts affecting recruiting, and you don’t want to ever get to a position where you can’t keep recruiting competitive.” He was one of many who said NIL has left the original platform of tying players to sponsors and has become pay for play in too many cases. He noted the NCAA is not stepping in. “Before, cheaters were cheating, but we could at least threaten them some with the NCAA.”
Phillips went so far as to acknowledge he has reached out to members of Congress, since the NCAA has taken a pass on implanting an enforceable national guideline.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said he favors his players monetizing their brand. But he doesn’t like the lack of a system. “It was supposed to be a way for players to capitalize on their market value. It wasn’t supposed to be pay for play. And it wasn’t supposed to be a recruiting inducement.” He said there needs to be one set of rules for the entire country. “Just tell us what it is.”
Calling For A Commissioner
Clawson is a coach who is not afraid to take on the bigger issues. We asked him if, with all the college football changes, he could foresee a day when CFB pulls away from the rest of college sports and operates independently. He outwardly laughed and said he had not wanted to go there, but since we brought it up…”We need to have a commissioner or a leadership group who looks out for the betterment of college football.” Clawson said everyone is doing their assigned job. Conference commissioners are tending to their flock of schools. Athletic directors are looking out for all of the teams and athletes at their schools.
But no one can deny that college football revenue is the driving force behind all the recent and future changes. “I don’t think anybody is necessarily doing anything wrong,” Clawson said. “The problem is there is no oversite or leadership that’s doing what’s best for the whole game. I don’t think that’s good for the health overall of college football.” He said it is a matter of too few prospering under the current system.
Speaking of Changes
Miami’s Mario Cristobal said the Hurricanes are getting rid of the much-recognized turnover chain from the sidelines this season. And in his stoically intense style he said the media was making more of it than was needed. “We’ve been working so hard and paying attention to so many other things that, in my opinion, are much more critical to winning football games and having success that it really hasn’t been a subject or a topic. We won’t be using it. You guys okay with that? We good now? Everybody got the chain stuff? Okay. All right. Thank you.”
Clemson has long thrived on continuity in the program. But changes were thrust upon the Tigers. This off-season saw Dabo Swinney needing to replace his offensive and defensive coordinator as Tony Elliott and Brent Venables left for head coaching jobs. As for Elliott taking the job at ACC rival Virginia, Swinney said he encouraged him to take the job. “I told him he needs to take the job. And I told him this is the right one. I felt like he was a great fit for Virginia, and I felt like Virginia was a great fit for Tony and his family.” Swinney added that if a coach does not look out for those in their program and promote from within, it kills the culture around them.
There is a change at the top in Blacksburg, Virginia. Even though first year VA Tech head coach Brent Pry was the last to address the media at the end of two days, few were more excited to be there than him. His attire even spoke to his affection for VA Tech. And during his presentation he reached into his pocket to check a text he had just gotten on his phone. It was a notice that defensive back recruit Cameren Fleming had just committed to the Hokies. “We just got better, guys. Appreciate the thumbs-up back there.” The text had come from a VA Tech blogger in the back of the media room.
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) July 21, 2022
Players Come and Players Go
Towards the end of the two-day event the NCAA Division I Council issued its recommendation to do away with pretty much any regulation regarding the transfer portal. Players would no longer be restricted to one “free transfer.” As long as they could prove academic viability, they could transfer as frequently as they wanted and be eligible to play.
We asked Pry about the difficulty of managing a roster if that recommendation passes. “Right after NIL, the transfer portal has been next on my list, but we just need some end caps, right? We need some defining — some calendar dates that make sense so that it gives us a chance to keep the roster in good condition,” he said. “I’m all for these guys having opportunities to help themselves, to be in a better situation that fits them, but at the same time to protect our program and our players we need that roster to be healthy and to do that we need some endpoints.”
Speak Your Mind, Pat
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi created some buzz during the event by saying what he felt. In a radio row interview Narduzzi addressed having to play Michigan State in the Peach Bowl last year without starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, who sat out the game. “He’s a 21 point difference, ok. Michigan State gets their butt kicked in,” Narduzzi told Bazzy’s Black and Gold Banter show. But he wasn’t done discussing, or dissing, Michigan State. “You talk about Big Ten and SEC and ACC, If that’s one of the best Big Ten teams, let’s go to the Big Ten and win it every year,” he said. “I don’t want to hear about this Big Ten dominance and SEC dominance.”
In the same interview, Narduzzi threw his previous offensive coordinator Mark Whipple under the bus. “Our old offensive coordinator had no desire to run the ball,” Narduzzi said. “Everybody knew it. He was stubborn. Wake Forest was 118th in run defense, and we threw the ball every down. When we ran it, we ran it for 10 yards, but that wasn’t good enough.”
Asked on Thursday at his press conference if he wanted to clarify any of his comments, Narduzzi said, “Not really. I guess it was a long summer.” He then went on to clarify his thoughts on Michigan State. “You hear all these things during the summer about the Power 2s and all this stuff. We’ll just start there. You know, we play some darn good football in the ACC, and I think people forget about it.” He added, “That’s just confidence. That’s no disrespect to the Big Ten or Michigan State. It’s just about Pitt and about the ACC.”
Protecting Your Guy
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei took a lot of heat from Clemson fans last year for what they deemed to be disappointing production. Swinney spent his time in fierce defense of his quarterback, when we asked him about the criticism and his confidence level in Uiagalelei by bringing him to media days as a face of the program. “I don’t need anybody on a message board to tell me who DJ is on a message board,” Swinney said. He said the team did not due its job to help Uiagalelei. “with DJ, we were not very good around him. So his mistakes were magnified.”
We asked Uiagalelei if the criticism bothered him. He said, “Probably more than it should have. When you are making mistakes and then hear the criticism, it adds up. But that has to be part of my growth, learning to let it go.”
If it helps, there is no doubt in Swinney’s confidence level in him. “I believe in him, and there ain’t no doubt about that.” If that is not convincing enough, here is what Swinney told Sirius XM on radio row Wednesday. “My quarterback… this dude’s a freak. And people talk about him like he’s some slapdick from Eastaboga Community College and this guy can play the game at the highest level. He’s going to play the game at the highest level. And he wasn’t great last year. He was awesome as a freshman. He was awesome his whole career in high school. He’s a winner. He’s got all the tools, all the intangibles. But he is better because of what he went through.”
Swinney wasn’t finished. “He loses his confidence, for the first time in his life he had to face some criticism. This guy ain’t ever been criticized. He’s been the goat his life. Now all of a sudden, he’s got milk-bone underwear on and people are chomping at him everywhere he goes.”
It feels like the season is just right around the corner.