Realignment concerns, NCAA probe at North Carolina make for eventful summer around the ACC
GREENSBORO, N.C. – So much for a lazy summer at Atlantic Coast Conference headquarters.
Realignment rumors. An NCAA investigation into agent involvement with players at one of its marquee institutions.
No wonder the ACC is ready for the offseason to end and the football games to begin.
"I guess this is our year to experience those problems and all that," Wake Forest running back Josh Adams said Sunday during the league's preseason media day.
There surely hasn't been any shortage of news around the ACC over the past few months. And not all of it was bad: the league recently announced a new broadcast package for football and men's basketball that will be worth $1.86 billion from ESPN over 12 years, doubling the conference's TV revenue.
But most of the attention lately has focused on the NCAA investigation at North Carolina into whether two players received improper benefits from agents. With similar probes popping up at several Southeastern Conference schools, the issue of athletes' involvement with agents quickly turned into the hot-button topic du jour in college sports.
"It is kind of a distraction, but we kind of look at it as we've already taken our adversity for the season," Tar Heels quarterback T.J. Yates said. "So once we get over this little speed bump, we'll be able to put it behind us and go forward through the season."
ACC commissioner John Swofford — the former athletic director at North Carolina — dedicated nearly one-quarter of his hour-long question-and-answer session to the issue, voicing his support for the North Carolina Secretary of State's investigation about potential misconduct involving agents and saying "we probably need to look at strengthening the law in this area."
The state requires sports agents to register in North Carolina and prohibits them from offering gifts before a contract is signed, with violators possibly facing criminal or civil penalties.
"I suspect (the problem) has (worsened) some because of the dollars at the next level, in the NFL and the NBA," Swofford said. "I think it's also being paid more attention at this given point in time. While uncomfortable, I think that's good. Having been an AD for 17 years ... the problem's been there, and believe me, as an AD, you feel, or as a coach, you feel vulnerable ... because it's not an easy situation to control from an institutional standpoint.
"You have to educate, educate, educate the athletes that are on campus," he added. "And I think our schools do that."
A month earlier, all the talk in college circles centered around the possibility of another round of conference realignment, with concerns that uncertainty in the Big 12 and expansion by the Pac-10 and Big Ten would set off a chain reaction that would reshape the Football Championship Subdivision.
There were lingering questions about whether another conference would make a play for one or more ACC schools before the league ultimately stood pat.
"There were a lot of conferences that certainly were more active in terms of what was done or potentially being done than we were," Swofford said. "But rest assured, we were quietly evaluating that landscape and our internal discussions to determine what's in our best interests moving forward, and what ramifications on the (ACC), if any, might come from expansion by other conferences.
"Without question, at the presidential level of this league, there continues to be a strong commitment to each other, a strong commitment to the ACC, the belief that 12 is the right number for us, but a willingness, if the world changes around us, to take a look at what those changes mean. ... We're very comfortable with, not only 12, but the 12 that we have."
The league's powers-that-be spent the first of its two-day preseason media gathering to look ahead to not only the season's beginning — but also its end. After five years in Florida, the ACC championship game moves closer to the center of the conference's footprint when it comes to Charlotte — roughly a 90-minute drive from league headquarters — on the first weekend in December.
"The road to Charlotte is going to be something that's very special," said Michael Kelly, the league's associate commissioner for football.
The start of preseason practice means something to everyone who will snap on a helmet. But it means even more to a pair of linebackers who were kept out of the 2009 season for serious health-related reasons: Boston College's Mark Herzlich, who stepped away to fight a rare form of cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma, and North Carolina State's Nate Irving, who suffered a collapsed lung and a broken left leg in a grisly auto accident.
"As of right now, I feel like I'm back in full effect," Irving said.